Lauren DeStefanoí¢ŒóŒ»s new book, Wither, heralds the coming of a promising new voice in young adult dystopian fiction. Wither introduces us to Rhine Ellery, age sixteen, who lives in a world decimated by the results of genetic engineering. In an attempt to render humanity almost immortal and disease-free, scientists accidentally introduced into human DNA a ticking time bomb í¢ŒóŒî all women live only to age twenty and men to age twenty-five. In this world, riddled with brutality and stricken with poverty, girls are married off as young as thirteen and forced to bear children in a desperate attempt to keep humanity ahead of the wave of disease that threatens to eradicate them.
Lately readers have been seeing an influx of books handling new and old topics in a different, more female-centric way. Part parable, part warning, Wither puts women and girls at the heart of a dystopian tale mixing progress and disempowerment, science and secrecy. After being kidnapped from the home she shares with her twin brother, Rhine is "sold" to a rich man, Linden, along with two other girls, Cecily and Jenna. Their polygamous marriage is seen as necessary, for Lindení¢ŒóŒ»s father is a scientist trying to find a cure for the "virus" that strikes down youth, and he needs new subjects for his experiments í¢ŒóŒî subjects in whose DNA, he hopes, a cure can be found.
The day-to-day lives of Rhine and her sister-wives í¢ŒóŒî parties, pregnancy, babies í¢ŒóŒî contrasts starkly with the shadow of death that looms over every action. Even Rhineí¢ŒóŒ»s growing romance with a servant, Gabriel, could lead to vicious punishment for them both í¢ŒóŒî as could her repeated attempts to escape her gilded prison. This story, the first of a trilogy, leaves us with a glimmer of hope but no easy answers.