First I would like to address a couple issues I have seen others raise - namely, the lack of world-building and vagueness surrounding this dystopian future. I admit - the world-building was lacklustre, and the level to which my beliefs had to be suspended for any of it to be remotely believable was quite high. However, for whatever reason, I was not bothered by either of these issues. The fact that North America is the only continent left untouched after (nuclear?) warfare is negligible - egotistical, yes - but otherwise completely unnecessary for the plot to move forward, and thus I was able to overlook its presumptuousness. The fact that it is extremely unlikely that every person inhabiting the Earth would be vaccinated (and thus infected with the virus) was also something I could overlook, as I don't find it hard to believe that some type of forced inoculation would be implemented in a society looking to eradicate all disease. (I'm also aware that all is not as it seems in most dystopians, and that what seem to be infallible truths have a way of becoming not-so-infallible as series' progress). And as for the science behind the exactness of the age with which the virus affects each gender, as a non-scientist, I took no issue with its lack of explanation. I assumed that if a society as seemingly technologically advanced as this had no explanation, then there wasn't one to be found (yet) - similar to how doctor's today are unable to explain why some people contract cancer, while others remain cancer free.
I absolutely loved Rhine. There were so many times where I questioned her reasons for wanting to escape, as she seemingly had paradise handed to her on a silver platter, before I remembered how I might feel if told that I would spend my short time on earth as a prisoner. At the end of the day, a well-treated prisoner is just that - a prisoner - and DeStefano made it very easy to blur the lines, allowing me to question Rhine's lack of acceptance of her new life, before reminding how much freedom and personal autonomy is worth: everything. I loved that her fear of Housemaster Vaughan didn't leak into her relationship with Linden, and that she was able to see Linden for the person he is - a mere pawn in his father's game. I still question her reasons for not telling Linden the truth about her abduction and her life with her brother or the truth about his father's evilness, but I'm hoping for an explanation in the next instalment.
I loved the relationship that DeStefano built between Linden, Rhine, Cecily and Jenna. It was so interesting to witness what a polygamous relationship might be like, and I loved experiencing Rhine's embarrassment at walking in on Jenna and Linden after having sex, or at her jealousy (and then astonishment for being jealous) at seeing his closeness to Cecily that only a special kind of intimacy brings. The sisterhood they shared was so strange, but so realistic, that I couldn't help but believe in their world and begin to hope for their futures. Cecily was the epitome of an annoying younger sister, but one that you can't help but love. Her mistreatment of the attendants, her immature need for attention and her naiveté about Housemaster Vaughan's true intentions all spoke volumes about her young age and lack of experience, which had me finding her endearing. Jenna was full of pain and secrets, and while she seems less memorable, the role she played was invaluable. And Linden. Poor, clueless Linden. I hated him at first, and each mention of his gold teeth had me involuntarily shuddering. As the book progressed, and I learned more about him and his intentions, I secretly wished Rhine would give up on her dreams of escape in order to save him from further harm.
Lastly, the perfect villain - Housemaster Vaughan. A respectable doctor who claims to only want the best for his son (which means finding the antidote to the deadly virus that plagues the entirety of humanity) who secretly keeps bodies in his basement for his experiments and wishes for grandchildren so he can experiment on their DNA. A man who would kidnap a van-full of girls, let his son pick three for his brides, and then have the remaining girls executed - they're unnecessary, so why keep them? A man who smiles while he whispers in your ear that if you want to continue to live, you won't try running away again. A man who seems to have eyes and ears everywhere, who controls everyone in his house like a puppeteer, who lets no one escape his grasp alive - or dead. DeStefano's descriptions of Housemaster Vaughan will haunt my nightmares, and I still can't see his name without picturing snake-like features on an older man's face.
So while flawed, Wither is definitely a must-read for me. Not everyone will be able to set aside its flaws like I did, but for those who can, you will find a completely spell-binding story that keeps your heart tugging in different directions, only for you to realize that it would have broken regardless of which direction was chosen. Yet, out of that heartbreak is a hopefulness that I can't seem to shake. I have a feeling that tomorrow I might see the world slightly brighter, and have Wither to thank for it.