Book Events & Blog Events, Discussions

Discussion: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

This post is part of the Catch Wither Fever Read-Along event hosted by myself and Jessie at The Daily Bookmark.

I haven’t finished Wither yet, but I wanted to go ahead and post a discussion about some of the controversial topics within the book.  There won’t be any spoilers in this post (at least not anything that will reveal the ending), and I ask that any comments also refrain from using spoilers.

Note:  I don’t want to cause a big todo with this post, but I just thought some of events that occur in Wither could spark some interesting conversations.  I do not judge others, and I realize that my opinions are simply that – my opinions, and everyone else may have a completely different opinion.  That’s great!  So please know that I mean no offense to anyone who holds a different opinion from my own.

Discussion Topic #1:  The Content Warning in Wither
I really don’t read very many reviews of books as I’m reading them, because I’m a bit crazy about spoilers.  I like going into a book almost knowing nothing – I usually read a review or a synopsis of a book, add it to my TBR list on Goodreads, and then I don’t read anything else about it for a while.  If I see one of my blogger friends has a review up, I’ll read that, and usually by the time I get around to reading the book, I’ve forgotten a lot of the details. So therefore I go in without really knowing much.

That said, with this Catch Wither Fever Read-Along Event, I’ve been looking into these books and Lauren DeStefano more than usual.  I haven’t read any reviews since starting Wither, but I have glanced at a few.  And here’s the discussion topic I’m trying to get to:  I’ve noticed that a lot of reviews warn readers about the polygamy aspect in the story.  And I get that, because polygamy is a very controversial topic and some readers are completely turned off by it.  

But here are my thoughts on this:  I try not to judge anyone, and therefore polygamy is not something that bothers me.  It’s not for me – I’m in a monogamous marriage and that’s how it’ll always be for me – but I can’t say what’s right for anyone else.  But my main point here is that, in my opinion, the polygamy in this story (at least in the parts that I’ve read) is NOT the big issue here.  The big issue – the horrible thing that has gone on, that reviewers may also want to warn their readers about – is that these girls are forcibly taken from their homes, shoved in a van, evaluated, and then are either sold into prostitution, killed, or forced into a polygamous marriage, where they are expected to procreate.  Their freedoms (or their lives) are taken from them, and they have absolutely no say in the matter.  Rhine even brings up this point on page 224:  “Freedom, Gabriel.  That’s what you can’t get here.”

Basically, all I’m really saying, is that no matter your feelings on polygamy, I think the real issue in this story is that these girls are having their freedoms stripped from them, and they are being forced into marriages and motherhood against their will.  Polygamy is kind of the least of their problems.

What are your thoughts on this?  And don’t worry – I know that not everyone will feel the same way as me, so feel free to comment with different opinions. And also remember that I am not trying to offend anyone or their beliefs with this topic discussion.  I know plenty of people will be extremely disturbed by the polygamy aspect.  I just personally don’t see it as the worst thing in the story. 

Discussion Topic #2:  Speculating on the Future
I’ve also glanced at a couple of reviews that brought up the issue of the state of the world in Wither.  So World War III happened sometime in the past, and it destroyed “all but North America, the continent with the most advanced technology” (page 55).  Some criticize this as being kind of biased towards North America, saying that other countries have far more advanced technology.  But I just see this as the speculative world that Lauren DeStefano has created.  Rhine lives far into our future; she says that her father “had an atlas of the world as it appeared in the twenty-first century” (page 55), which means the book is set in at least the twenty-second century.  So for all we know, by the time this story takes place, North America could be the continent with the most advanced technology.

The part that I have a bit of a harder time grasping is the idea that “the damage was so catastrophic that all that remains of the rest of the world is ocean and uninhabitable islands so tiny that they can’t even be seen from space” (page 55).  I’m no scientist, but this seems unlikely.  However – and don’t tell me if you’ve read more than I have in this series and you know the answer to this – I think that perhaps this is just what Rhine has been told, and it might not actually be true.

What do you guys think about this?  Do you think it’s biased towards North America?  Do you think that it’s scientifically possible for all but North America to be blasted into tiny islands?

Let’s get a discussion going!  Remember, please don’t leave any spoilers, and also, please be respectful of everyone’s opinions.  Leave your comments below, or feel free to write your own discussion post (and be sure to leave a link in the comments if you do)!


  1. Briana

    March 29, 2012 at 5:49 am

    Interesting Questions!

    1. I agree that polygamy isn’t really the “problem” with this book. As much as DeStefano probably included it to make it “edgy,” she took a lot of effort to make it a nonissue. I think you said on Twitter that you’re about halfway through the book (I don’t have an account, but I occasionally stalk!), so it won’t be a spoiler to mention that absolutely nobody is actually enjoying polygamy in this world. It has far more detractors than supporters even in terms of characters. DeStefano takes particular care to distance Rhine from the situation, making it clear that she never wanted to be there and having her refuse to act as a wife in any capacity. The other two wives have their own attitudes, but are provided backstories that make any actions they take that could be “distasteful” to readers seem to be the fault of the corrupt system in which they are raised. They are essentially victims and not active participants.

    I agree that what makes this “dystopian” to readers is the issue, essentially, of women’s rights. You can see clearly from recent news stories that many women are incredibly concerned about their “reproductive freedom.” I imagine Wither, where women literally ARE forced to give birth is something like their worst nightmare. (And while I’m saying “their,” I of course would be really opposed to this system, too!)

    The polygamy, I think, could also play into the women’s rights nightmare. I have absolutely no personal experience with polygamy and I admit I haven’t exactly been reading up on it in my spare time, so I may be rather uninformed, but I do think that the word raises images in people’s minds of harems. There’s the idea that men are collecting women for their personal benefit, and it comes across as objectification. (Whether this is true in real relationships I, again, have no idea.)

    Now that I’ve concluded that this is essentially a women’s dystopian, I am interested in how it has affected male readers. Of course I expect most of them to also be appalled at kidnapping, denying freedom, potential rape, etc., but perhaps it is not quite as personal? I haven’t really read many reviews yet, so I haven’t come across any by men yet.

    1. Briana

      March 29, 2012 at 5:50 am

      It thought my comment was too long, so….

      2. I don’t think anyone believes this “world-building,” and I think it’s a bit of a shame that the editor of the book let it go, unless there’s a really great explanation for it later in the series.

      I don’t claim to be much of a scientist either, but I do remember glancing over a review on Goodreads where the author argued that if ocean levels had risen, parts of North America, not other countries, would be underwater. She also particularly mentioned that Florida would in no way be above water. …And then questioned how people were getting exotic fruits and other things that don’t grow in North America. I can only guess we are supposed to assume advanced greenhouses exists or something.

      My own theory for North America being the only continent in existence was that it was an attempt to limit the scope of the book. Otherwise we would be asking whether all countries had this virus (what about poor countries where people probably would never have been able to afford genetically modifying their children?) or why people didn’t just all run away to countries that were less chaotic. Really, when I first read the sentence about this decimated world, I was completely taken aback. As far as I can tell it’s a highly unbelievable and therefore bothersome claim that added nothing whatsoever to the book.

      Your theory that it isn’t true is interesting. I don’t know whether I would like that. I think it’s getting a bit old in dystopians to pretend the whole world is evil and then at the last second go, “Oh, just kidding! It was only our fenced in city that was so corrupt! Phew!”

      But, no, I don’t think it was in any way biased. I think she chose North America because she lives in North America and she’s most familiar with it. She’s writing about what she knows and loves. I don’t think it’s some blanket statement about the worth of all other continents.

    2. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      March 29, 2012 at 6:31 pm

      I agree with how you said that DeStefano has made the aspect of polygamy into a nonissue. Rhine isn't really fighting the aspect of polygamy itself when she thinks about how she has been wronged, and really the only time the polygamy aspect is even brought up is during the wedding, and when Rhine thinks of the other girls as her sister wives, or comments on Linden spending the night with them.

      I think what makes this dystopian is the presence of the genetic problems, where these new generations only live to their early twenties. And polygamy is part of what people have resorted to in the attempts to repopulate the world. And the horrible thing that is done in the name of repopulating is that these girls are taken from their homes, are evaluated as to whether they are worthy of procreating, and then are either killed or sold into prostitution or forced to become wives and mothers. And other than the whole becoming mothers bit, I see this as basically a human rights issue, rather than a women's rights issue.

      And much of what is going on in the US right now basically has to do with human rights as well. Yes, there are proposed bills out there that will restrict women's reproductive rights (there's one in the works in my state right now that is the most elaborate one that I have seen), but I think basically it boils down to freedom. Women will either continue to have the freedom of their own choices, or bills will be passed that take away that freedom. No matter what side of the issue you're on, that's what ultimately will happen. And I think DeStefano brings this up with her story as well when she has Rhine contemplate whether she really would be better off escaping or not, and she realizes that, no matter how good she has it in the mansion, she doesn't have the freedom that she had before.

      And yes, it would be very interesting to see what male readers make of this story. I may try to get my husband to read it. But he thinks a lot like I do, so he may relate more to it than a typical male would.

      And as far as the worldbuilding goes, I think what we really need to know is HOW did it get that way? She says that a third world war occurred in the past, and "the damage was so catastrophic that all that remains of the rest of the world is ocean and uninhabitable islands so tiny that they can't even be seen from space." How did this occur? The way I read it was that some kind of bombs destroyed the rest of the world, so much so that maybe the surface of the continents were stripped away and all that was left above the ocean line were little islands here and there. I don't know if this is what she meant – I mean, this definitely isn't spelled out for us – but this, to me, doesn't really seem scientifically possible. But let's just say for a minute that it is possible, and there was a bomb or bombs strong enough to wipe off the surface of the other continents. Wouldn't that mean that the ocean had more places to go, so the tide would actually recede from North America? Yet in the book the sea level is higher than it once was in Manhattan. Once again, I'm no scientist.

      But if it is something to do with the sea level rising and that's why the rest of the world is simply tiny islands, yes – North America would be affected in the same way. I would think that the lowest elevations near the coasts would be underwater… Of course, it is speculative and you need to be able to suspend your disbelief, but it is hard to when you think about all these things put together.

      I'm not sure if I want the whole thing to have simply been what Rhine was told, and that there really is some other people out there, but there are several things that make me think that maybe this is the case. But my comment is already WAY too long, so maybe I'll bring those up later.

      Great conversation, Briana! ;)

  2. Jac

    March 29, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    I could not agree more; too much focus was put on the polygamy aspect of this. Sure, I get that it's controversial – but the polygamy is not at all what this book is about. It's about the short lifespan, the lack of freedoms and the essential slave trade.

    Personally? I liked the sister-wife concept in this book, it was nice to see Rhine and her interaction with them as they navigated this world together.

    -Jac @ For Love and Books

    1. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      March 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm

      Ah, you put it so much better than I did, and much more succinctly!

      And I think that the presence of Rhine's sister wives really served to have other characters that were going through similar situations to Rhine. She did have that camaraderie there, and she was able to find someone who could empathize with her situation. And I'm not done with the book yet, but one thing I don't like about Rhine is that she's basically only thinking about herself and Gabriel. I mean, she shows compassion for Jenna and Cecily, but when it really boils down to it, the only people she cares enough about to want their escape is herself and Gabriel. Of course, I don't know what happens at the end, or in the next book, so she could come around…

      Thanks for joining the discussion, Jac!

  3. Krista

    March 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Great points! When I read Wither the main focus really wasn't on the polygamy but rather that the girls lost their freedom. That being said, polygamy really doesn't bother me. One the second point, I think that I've been seeing a lot more dystopian books with North America surviving and the other continents being destroyed. I just think it's either convenient to write or that's what people (who live in NA) would like to see the world if some great destruction happened in the future. In reality this probably won't happen. But as a YA book it works I guess.

    1. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      March 30, 2012 at 7:39 pm

      Yes, that's how I felt about the book as well – the polygamy is really overshadowed by the fact that their freedom has been taken away.

      And authors are told to "Write what you know," (although I prefer "Write what you want to read,") and I think this kind of bleeds into the location of their stories. If you live in one place, or are familiar with a place, it's a lot easier to set your story there, because it may end up being more believable. I know this isn't the case for all authors, but I know personally it is easier for me to write about a location that I am familiar with. So I think it's not really biased towards North America at all – it just happens to be where the story is set.

      Thanks for joining the discussion, Krista!

  4. Mackenzie @ Oh, For the Love of Books!

    March 30, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    I completely agree 100%!! While I don't agree with polygamy, that was not what bothered me. At least those who actually have polygamous marriages in our world actually want to be in one (well mostly). What bothered me was the fact that these girls were taken off the street and forced into this type of marriage. All choice is gone and now all they are good for is having more children. I definitely agree that that aspect (the lack of choice) is what the book truly is about.

    eh…the whole "biased towards America" doesn't bother me. Isn't the author American? So shouldn't she be a bit biased towards her own country? Oh well. But I agree. Some of the scientific aspects don't exactly make sense. Perhaps other countries are uninhabitable (nuclear weapons, ect.) but I don't believe they'd only be tiny little Islands. I believe there should be more left of other countries. Even if it was the environment destroying bits of other countries at a time, America would also be shrinking. I've actually found a couple of scientific inaccuracies throughout the series. After you read Fever I'll tell you what another blogger brought up that was important.

    Awesome discussion! I hope to put one up soon :)

    All the best ♥
    Mackenzie Oh, For the Love of Books!

    I hope I answered everything :P

    1. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      March 30, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      Yes – it does seem like those who are in polygamous marriages in our world want to be in one – at least that I know of, but I guess there could be this kind of thing (forced polygamous marriages) that I don't know about. The whole forced thing, the loss of their freedom – that's the disturbing, immoral part of this story. It overshadows everything else, I think. Well, except for a young girl barely in her teens getting pregnant.

      And yeah, I think the fact that the author is from North America has a lot to do with the fact that the story is set there – she knows the area and it's just kind of easier to set your story in a familiar place. But the rest of the world's situation is definitely questionable, and I wonder how it will come into play in Fever and book 3. I guess I'll find out about Fever soon!

      Thanks so much for joining the discussion, Mackenzie, and I look forward to your discussion post!

  5. Kimberly @ On the Wings of Books

    April 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    I'm a little over half way through the book so I'd thought I'd through my two cents in.

    I personally don't agree with polygamy, but who am I to judge the choices someone else makes. I was afraid this would color my opinion of the book because it's something I don't agree with but I've found that it doesn't really bother me at all for the same reason you mentioned. The girls were kidnapped and are being held captive against there will, and this bothers me so much more than the polygamy aspect of the book. The things that go on in that house are so horrible who can worry about polygamy?

    As far as North America being the only place left… Lauren DeStefano is American right? If I was writing a book and could only pick one country to survive it would be the US. Why? Because I'm American. If a Chinese, or Japanese or Australian author wrote a book similar to this than I would expect that China, Japan or Australia would be the only country left. People need to stop making mountains out of mole hills and just enjoy it for what it is… a fictional book.

    1. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      April 7, 2012 at 7:29 pm

      Yeah, the polygamy aspect is really overshadowed by all the other horrible things that these girls go through.

      And yes, I think authors normally find it easier to place their stories in a country or area that they're familiar with, so I think that's why North America became the country that had survived. Makes sense to me – I'm not sure why people think it's biased.

      Thanks for joining the discussion, and I look forward to your review of Wither!

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