Lauren DeStefano's debut novel is A Good Book . . . and a Bad One, as well, but before you get all huffy on me, let me explain. Wither has a very odd sort of appeal, but it's strong. While reading it I had visions of The Stanley Hotel from The Shining, because the place narrator Rhine ends up gives me the same sort of grand heebie-jeebies. The fact I felt and saw Rhine's world and the other people who inhabit it so thoroughly is a definite testament to DeStefano's world- and character-building skills The word "thick" also comes to mind like a really great blanket that doesn't let in any light, or cold; the essence of the story world completely encases you, but like any really efficient blanket, it's not entirely comfortable when it's so completely wrapped around you. But Wither *makes* you like it.
A stark story told in a crushingly luxurious setting, Wither is told in first person, allowing the reader to feel all of Rhine's rage, to be right there with her as she develops her particular brand of inner strength, dignity, and determination, her lessons in the differences between true malice, defensive measures, and simple idiocy. And of course, we're very, very close as she quietly learns about falling in love, all the while feeling the constant-though-sometimes-whispered desperation in her every thought and action.
The book does exactly what a well-behaved book should, and with great results, and even though the cover makes it clear it's the first of a trilogy, I felt such satisfaction with the conclusion the book could be a stand-alone and still feel finished. Hence, it is a Good Book (as in, well-behaved, like I said).
But I also said it was a Bad Book, didn't I? Why, when I enjoyed it so much? Well, because it'll make you cry, if you're a writer. Especially if you're a writer. Because no debut author has a right to be this good, and reading Wither is bound to make any other novice/writer-hopeful feel completely inadequate. Bad, Bad Book!
We should make it stand in a corner and think about what it's done. But of course, we'd have to BUY our own copy, so our bookstore, friend, or library wouldn't get very angry if we just kept theirs.