May 10, 2011

Conflicted Reviews: Wither and Nickel Plated

I haven't been reviewing much lately. One problem is that I keep reading books I'm deeply conflicted about.

Book Cover

WITHER by Lauren DeStefano showed up at my house unexpectedly. I was ridiculously excited and started it immediately. A number of bloggers that I respect reviewed it well. I could soon see why they were enamored. Rhine has been married to Linden, a rich young man. However, she does not love him and was kidnapped from her home with her brother. She wants to return to her previous life, before she dies in four years. There's a strong emotional core to the story. And it's a good story.

But the premise is awful. Men die at twenty-five and women at twenty, due to genetic engineering. Yep, an entire generation was modified at once and they all die at exactly the same ages. If the science wasn't ludicrous enough, people react in strange ways. There are still older generations alive to keep things running. But Rhine's generation isn't going to school and going into research science and medicine. Nope, society totally collapsed and it's all rich guys marrying pretty girls. (Lots of women get killed. Why, if you want to propagate the species, would you kill women left and right?)

So, over a month later, I still haven't finished WITHER. I can see why others find it compelling, but the story can't overcome the premise, for me. Lauren DeStefano invests energy into the setting. It is the Chemical Garden trilogy, after all. Normally I would love that emphasis on setting. But in this instance, it kept forcing me to confront my issues with WITHER. I'm too interested in genetics to let it roll off.

Book Cover

Another novel I've been having trouble with is the more obscure NICKEL PLATED by Aric Davis. Nickel is a 12-year-old runaway who makes his money as a detective - and a drug dealer and blackmailer. The blackmail is fine, since he's blackmailing pedophiles and turning them in. The drug dealing is less fine, but at least it's only marijuana. Still enough to get the poor kid he has selling it in trouble. (I don't just mean with the law. I mean with other people who might consider the high school their territory.) But a good detective does need some gray shading, especially in a noir-style novel.

Nickel has just been hired by a teen girl to find her younger sister. The girl was kidnapped, but her parents thought she just ran away. Interspersed with the mystery are scenes from Nickel's day-to-day life and infrequent explanations of his past. Pretty intriguing stuff until he agrees to help a woman launder counterfeit money.

Not cool. There's a reason some governments execute people for counterfeiting. It kills. It destroys economies and the poor are always hurt the worst. That's not a shade of gray. It's wrong. And the text doesn't acknowledge how wrong it is. There's no hint that we're supposed to see Nickel as anything other than a struggling hero. It really turned me off a book I was enjoying. The reviews on Amazon are good, so clearly others were more charmed by Nickel's ambiguity in NICKEL PLATED.

There you go. I just keep coming across books with stories I love but other aspects I find repellant.


  1. I enjoyed Wither quite a bit, but I think it left a lot of things out that were important to the world-building and it was a little dark for my taste (I'm not really into dystopia). I'm hoping future books solve some of the book's problems.

  2. Very interesting take on Wither that I hadn't even thought about! This is why I love reading book blogs because I love different opinions on books. And really, these days, I only have a handful of blogs I still read. :)

    Good points, I'm sorry you can't enjoy the rest of the story though. I found it so breathtaking and horrific at the same time. Don't know why I didn't think about the fact that no one is going to school to study this problem. Obviously I'd fit right in with the characters in the books. heh

  3. @Alison: It is dark, isn't it? Probably not a book for younger teens.

    @Cat: I think it was one of the first instances of horror that really pushed me out of the book - when the girls are killed in the van. Rhine has been extemporizing on why girls are kidnapped so frequently and why they're so valuable. And if all the girls have been genetically manipulated, all of them should have decent genes to pass on. Not to mention fertility can't be told just by looking at someone. (Or that fertility would be the only reason to want a girl.) It just felt so weird to have all but the three who were already sold killed. (Not to mention, if women die earlier than men, there are probably less women. Once more upping their value.) It just made no sense, which undercut the initial emotional jolt.

  4. I liked the article, but some disagree


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