Review–Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy #1) by Lauren DeStefano

Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy #1)
by Lauren DeStefano
Summary: By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.
When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape--before her time runs out?
Together with one of Linden's servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?

Release Date: March 22, 2011

Genre: YA Dystopian

Where to Buy: Amazon . Barnes and Noble . SimonTeen

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Source: I purchased a paperback.


Wither was fantastic! I’m a huge fan of the way Lauren DeStefano writes after reading Perfect Ruin and finally picking up Wither. I couldn’t help but be sucked into the story immediately. The premise was unique. Though Rhine was young, she was rapidly approaching the end of her life because of the new life spans in the book. She was kidnapped fairly early on and most of her experiences took place in the mansion, where she was married and expected to share her new husband with two other young girls and hopefully bear children. It was so shocking to me, perhaps because all of it sounded like a terrible nightmare for any young woman.

 A lot of people seem to have issues with the way the world was set up and how unlikely and implausible a world like that would be. While dystopian worlds should typically have lessons and be plausible in some way, I also think it’s still okay to write stories about “what if we lived in a world where…” without having to necessarily get there from present fact to futuristic fiction. If we take a few horrifying things that happen in the present and twist them around in horrible ways, no matter how far fetched it is, the idea can still have room to blossom. I think being able to take these what-if ideas and creating a story around them is fine. That may never happen, but what if it did? I guess I’m just of the mind that stories shouldn’t always be about what could happen. Not every dystopian concept has to be a cautionary tale.

Human trafficking to procreate before the generation dies off may seem far-fetched, but how is it any more unbelievable and shocking than what fuels the human trafficking trade that actually exists? The idea of procreation isn’t something young people tend to worry about, but it’s quite obvious that the first generation older people still hold much influence, especially in the Linden mansion, and they would certainly be more invested in the idea of the prolonging the human race. Young people are easily influenced and sheltered. Everyday, people are vaccinated without questioning why or what it’s for or how it works. We want cures without consequences. We take pills with some of the worst side effects and that’s considered better and we don’t as questions. These are some of the ideas rolling around in Wither and while I don’t have a bridge from here to there, I suppose I’m okay with the author taking these scenarios and twisting them into the premise of the book.

There are issues with the world building not making a whole lot of sense and there are also issues about how plausible anything like that would or could even happen. The logistics simply aren’t there in many cases. However, I like the author’s writing and if I suspend disbelief and go with the flow, I’m quite comfortable there. My favorite thing about Wither is how well it was written.

I really liked Rhine. She was perceptive and intelligent. She held on to her past and avoided getting too comfortable in the mansion. She was careful about what she told her sister wives and what secrets she chose to reveal. She bonded with Linden, her new husband, without sacrificing too much of herself and without forgetting her goal: to escape. I loved the way she saw the world around her and the compassion she had for others. Rhine was not stupid or impulsive and it wouldn't have served her well to be. It was in her best interest to be favored and granted more leniency due to that than the attempt to escape obviously or be rebellious. 

Linden wasn’t that bad of a person, all things considered. It would have been much easier to paint him as the all knowing captor of the three women and I liked that he wasn’t the simple villain. The other wives, despite how different they were, had very plausible and understandable reasons for being the kinds of people they were. Everyone in the book had layers. The dynamic between the wives was interesting and I liked how sometimes they were the best of friends and other times they were jealous of each other in some ways. I even liked the staff.

The mansion itself was a place that captured people and no one was granted actual freedom, even those who believed they were free. It would have been easy to make Linden a horrible villain and make life in the mansion terrible and ominous, but I liked that it was, at times, quite enjoyable for all who lived there. It made it harder to be a black and white kind of person and it played on Rhine’s compassion. I liked that her conflict wasn’t a simple this-place-is-horrible-so-I’m-leaving kind of thing. And the fact that Rhine’s life in the mansion wasn’t all that terrible just added to my own horror level while reading. It’s a soft, slow, less obvious horror when you’re trapped in a beautiful place with no way out.

What I also liked about Wither is that there were many different themes floating around. Was it about Stockholm syndrome? Freedom over luxury? Choice? Human trafficking? Love? Hope? Polygamy? Perfection? I kind of like how all of the elements are explored to some degree.

 I do recommend Wither and I can’t wait to finish the series. I’m intrigued by what might happen next.


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