Author: Lauren DeStefano
Genre: YA Dystopian
Series: The Chemical Garden Trilogy (Book 1)
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
What if you knew exactly when you would die?
Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden’s genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.
Quick & Dirty: Imaginative, cruel and frightening, you won’t be able to resist this intriguing world.
Opening Sentence: I wait. They keep us in the dark for so long that we lose sense of our eyelids.
Excerpt: Chapter 1
The premise of this story intrigued me from the very beginning. Long before buzz was building about this series, I knew it was going to be a book that I just had to read. The book was known then as The Last Chemical Garden. The announcement blurb pulled me in with the promise of a dystopian world, failed genetic experiments and polygamy. Diving into this sick and twisted world made me feel guilty, like I was doing something wrong. Even when I finished reading Wither, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about the story. I loved many things about this story, but there are many elements that don’t make sense. I think Wither is the type of story that not everyone will be able to enjoy. Because Wither is a YA novel, it can be hard at times to really wrap your mind around the concept of rape, polygamy and other “grown up” issues when the cast of victims are essentially innocent little/young girls. Despite some of my misgivings, I became invested in this story. Wither is the type of story that can be repulsive, haunting and seductive at equal turns.
Genetic engineering has forever altered the human race. Males live to age twenty-five and females live to age twenty. In these harsh times, women are hunted like wild game. Rhine and several other girls have been abducted, sold to the highest bidder. Those who survive the poking and prodding are spared, while the others are killed or forced into prostitution. Rhine finds herself thrust into a polygamous marriage with two other girls. The sister wives are forced to have children and live as captives, all the while living in the lap of luxury and being pampered day in and day out.
One of the many things that didn’t ring true to me is the idea that girls needed to be ruthlessly abducted in the first place. Given the harsh times and limited forms of income and work for females, I find it hard to believe that the wealthy House Governors couldn’t find willing participants. It shouldn’t be hard to find females who would sacrifice their morals and principles for safety and survival. They wouldn’t have to worry about when or how they would get their next meal, having proper clothing and shelter. It’s not completely plausible especially since some women turn to prostitution to survive. If the womb is a highly valued commodity, then you would think that girls wouldn’t need be treated so cruelly and callously. Treated like cattle and discarded like trash if they have some sort of “physical” defect, some of the captured just don’t make the cut.
You’ll be hard pressed to find any traces of romance in this novel, which is ok. Not only are Rhine’s male suitors pathetic, they are one dimensional caricatures. Linden is vile and morally bankrupt. There isn’t one thing that I liked about him or his “tragically sheltered” victimization bit. I never bought into his so called “epiphany”. Gabriel, the servant to the sister wives, is lackluster and never fully developed. There wasn’t even so much as a spark between him and Rhine. In Linden’s case, I think his non-sexual relationship with Rhine was completely unbelievable. For all intents and purposes, Linden thoroughly enjoys the polygamous lifestyle. He has no qualms about having sex with a 13 year old, practicing Kama Sutra with his other 19 year old wife, yet when it comes to the virginal Rhine – he’s what – understanding and a gentlemen? It was beyond nauseating to read the feeble justifications for his not pressing Rhine when he’s essentially raped his other wives. Mind you, this is from Rhine’s POV, so it’s even more unrealistic. The bottom line is that Linden is too naive to be believed, and he’s far from an innocent victim.
Unfortunately, the worldbuilding is underdeveloped. It’s also somewhat convoluted and inconsistent. Many things just aren’t explained and the implications of just about every element of this “new society” are just too much for the reader to infer. Why is wealth even an issue? Wouldn’t this series of cataclysmic events cause an economic collapse? North America is the only surviving continent – leaving the other six continents vaporized or swallowed whole by the melted polar ice caps?! The narrative never makes an attempt to establish a foundation, rules or the basic sense of a dystopian world. That true horrific impact is a missed opportunity, one that will surely need to be rectified as the series continues.
Don’t get me wrong – while I was frustrated with certain aspects of the story, I’m glad I read the book. This bold debut is beautifully written and the tragic nature of these characters is really quite moving.
Overall, Wither is a good read. While I wasn’t sold 100% on the execution, the premise is compelling and many aspects of this tale will stay with readers long after they have finished the book. Ms. DeStefano succeeded in delivering a pretty dark and bleak story. The dialog is powerful and Rhine delivers a chilling narrative of her abduction, attempts to escape and her struggle to survive this brutal ordeal.
I turn, gasping, to the storm. I won’t even get to see the world one last time before I die. I will only see Linden’s strange utopia. The spinning windmills. The strange flashing light.
Light. I think my eyes are playing tricks on me, but the light persists. It spins, shooting toward me and then continuing on its circular path. The lighthouse. My very favorite obstacle because it reminds me of the lighthouses off the Manhattan harbor, the light that brings the fishing boats home. It’s still going even in this storm, throwing its light into the trees, and if I can’t escape, I at least want to die beside it, because it’s as close as I can get to home in this awful, awful place.
Walking is impossible now. There are too many things flying, and I actually think I might be blown away. So I crawl, jamming my elbows and toes into the Astroturf of the golf course for traction. I move away from my name being called, away from that ongoing siren, away from a sudden stabbing pain that hits me somewhere. I don’t look to find out what the injury is, but there’s blood. I can taste it. I can feel it pooling and dripping. I only care about not being paralyzed. I can keep moving, and I do, until I’m touching the lighthouse.
The Chemical Garden Trilogy:
FTC Advisory: Simon & Schuster provided me with a copy of Wither. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review. In addition, I don’t receive affiliate fees for anything purchased via links from my site.
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