Review: Wither (The Chemical Garden #1) by Lauren DeStefano
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Chemical Garden #1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
Age Group/Genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction, Dystopian
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? (From Goodreads)
I didn’t really know much about Wither going into it, because I kind of shy away from too many spoilers before I read a book. But I did know it had to do with polygamy. But as I said in my Wither Discussion post, the polygamy aspect, in my opinion, is hardly the worst part of the story.
This story is set in the future, where there is an older generation that have been cured from all illnesses, but any children they produce only live into their early twenties, when they inevitably succumb to a fatal illness. In the hopes of repopulating the earth, young girls are often kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages, and then are forced to procreate. And while the polygamy is there, I think the worst aspect of this world is that these girls are stripped of their freedoms, and are forced to become pregnant, often at a very young age.
The protagonist, Rhine, is one of these girls, and although she is living in an extravagant mansion with jewel-encrusted clothing and servants around the clock, she is a prisoner there, and her thoughts and feelings really have no weight. Gabriel, a servant, asks Rhine, “What has the free world got that you can’t get here?” and Rhine’s answer that she thinks of later, in my opinion, basically sums up the whole theme of the story: “Freedom, Gabriel. That’s what you can’t get here.”
Pick Up the Pace…
And although all these horrible things happen to Rhine and the other girls in this world, and it makes a compelling tale, the story was kind of slow for me. The entire book is set inside the mansion, with Rhine only leaving the grounds a couple of times. So there’s a lot of talking to her sister wives, getting her feet rubbed, etc. There are a few suspenseful moments, but only a few. And most of the story is Rhine’s internal thoughts.
In fact, the antagonist, Housemaster Vaughn, Rhine’s father-in-law, is suspected of being this evil man who does evil things, but we only really see him acting sinister a couple of times. And it’s mostly just threats. Basically some of the other characters act afraid of him, and Rhine comes to all these conclusions about him in her head. She is sure that he’s doing these horrible things, and while yes, I think that he probably is, it would have been nice to actually see him doing more, so that it was more than just Rhine’s speculation.
The State of the World…
I’m not sure what to think about the state of the rest of the world in the book – supposedly there was a third world war in the past that destroyed all but North America, 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.” I also mentioned this in my Wither Discussion post. This seems a bit unlikely to me, but I’m no scientist. It makes me wonder if this is really true, or if there really are some other people in the rest of the world that perhaps have the cure that would save North America.
I realize that so far my review has sounded really negative. I actually really did enjoy this story, even though I had a few issues with it, and I would have liked a bit more action. But I am a fan of a lot of action in books, so any book without a lot of suspense and turn-the-page action is probably going to feel a bit slow for me.
But I think the book was well-written and I really liked a lot of the characters. I thought Rhine was a pretty strong character, and I liked how she really wavered as to what she thought was a better life. This world is so complex that it wouldn’t have been believable if she didn’t at least think about how maybe she had it better off in the mansion than out on her own.
I really liked her sister wives, Jenna and Cecily, too. Cecily was young and annoying but I thought she grew in the story, and I think she was a fully developed character. I wasn’t sure what side Jenna was on during most of the book, but I really did like her character a lot. And for some reason, from the beginning, I was determined to be Team Linden instead of Team Gabriel. Ultimately I don’t think I’m on either team, because I do have some issues with Linden, but I really don’t feel like I know Gabriel well enough to completely root for him. I guess I’ll see what happens in the other two books!
Here are some of my favorite quotes from Wither: