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

Title:  Wither
Author:  Lauren DeStefano
Series:  The Chemical Garden #1
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication Date:  March 22, 2011
Pages:  358
Format/Source:  Hardback/Purchased

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)

A Crazy World…

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.  

Some Praise…

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:

“If I could see everything, as the clouds do, would I swirl around this remaining continent, still so full of color and life and seasons, wanting to protect it?  Or would I just laugh at the futility of it all, and meander onward, down the earth’s sloping atmosphere?”

“And they are just like my mother’s lilies, with pink-red streaks running from the stamens like spilled ink.”

So even though I had some hang-ups with the book, I ultimately really enjoyed it!  My rating for Wither by Lauren DeStefano:

Four big stars.  It was a very interesting read with compelling themes, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

Find it:  Goodreads │ Amazon │ Simon & Schuster
If you like this book, you should try:  The Girl Who Owned a CityThe Hunger Games
Disclaimer:  I purchased this book myself.  I was not compensated in any way for this review.

This review was a part of the Catch Wither Fever Read-Along Event hosted by myself and Jessie at The Daily Bookmark.


  1. Kate@Midnight Book Girl

    April 2, 2012 at 5:15 am

    I find myself have to suspend a lot of my belief for some of these dystopian novels "brave new worlds", but I did enjoy Wither. I guess I'm Team Linden (although I have issues with him), mostly because there was a complex relationship with Rhine. Gabriel bored me, and he did nothing to improve my impression of him in the second book. I kind of feel it's a bit lazy on the part of the author, that we're just supposed to buy the attraction between him and Rhone, but even in the second book when they get some "steamy" time, it was hard not to yawn. Fever has more action to it than Wither, but I'm not sure I liked it as much. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on Fever!

    1. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      April 4, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      Yeah, you do have to suspend your disbelief a lot with many of the dystopians, but with this one it was a bit more than usual, at least for me.

      Yeah, I think I liked Linden more because, like you said, there was that complex relationship there, and with Gabriel it's just a few scenes.

      I just finished Fever so my review should go up soon!

  2. Jac

    April 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    I have to agree with Kate… I really liked Linden. It was obvious to me that he was so naive to what was happening around him, and he was just a victim of his surroundings. The Gabriel relationship just didn't do it for me.

    That said? I loved this book, despite all of the little things that bugged me (the world being so unrealistic.)

    -Jac @ For Love and Books

    1. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      April 4, 2012 at 6:28 pm

      I liked Linden, too, although *SPOILERS PEOPLE – AVERT YOUR EYES* getting a 13-year-old pregnant is not really something I admire in my love interests. I know that it is done often in this world, but I just couldn't get past that part. Other than that, I did like Linden.

  3. Bittner

    April 2, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Um, excuse me, but Gabriel is a red head! Enough said!

    1. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      April 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm

      I thought he just had brown hair, (which is how he's described in Fever), but I went back and saw that in one scene in Wither his hair is described as "coppery brown." So I guess that qualifies him as a redhead? You and your redheads… ;)

  4. Kimberly @ On the Wings of Books

    April 2, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    I didn't read what you thought yet, I just jumped to where you rated it so I'm glad you liked it! I'll be starting it probably on Thursday once I finish The Girl Who Played with Fire.

    1. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      April 3, 2012 at 4:05 am

      I totally understand. I'll see one of the bloggers I follow has written a review of a book I'm reading and I'll write them a comment saying, "I haven't read your review yet, but once I'm done with the book and have written my review I'll come back!" I worry about being spoiled, but most bloggers are great about spoiler warnings, so more than that I'm worried about plagiarizing their reviews without meaning to!

      I'm looking forward to reading what you thought about it!

    2. Kimberly @ On the Wings of Books

      April 11, 2012 at 12:05 am

      That's exactly why I don't read reviews of a book that I'm reading or getting close to reading. I'm too afraid of "stealing" someones thoughts!

      My review will be up tomorrow. I'm hoping to get to Fever before your event ends.

      Now that I've written my review and read yours I have to say that I agree with you about being on "team Linden", Gabriel just didn't do it for me, though Linden is a little too naive. I thought Vaughn was more creepy because you didn't really seem him do stuff.

    3. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      April 11, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      Yeah, I can see what you're saying about a villain being creepy because they're kind of behind the scenes or whatever. But as I was reading it it almost felt like we had no idea what he was doing – and we had no way of knowing if what Rhine thought he was doing was even correct. I just would have liked a few more scenes of him being creepy so that I would have accepted her speculations.

      I'm off to check out your Wither review! ;)

  5. fakesteph

    April 3, 2012 at 12:21 am

    I had to go draft my own review really quickly so that I could get my thoughts down before reading yours. For the most part I agree. Jenna and Cecily were the most compelling characters, Linden and Gabriel are both kind of weak love interests, and the book had very little action or comedy. You are completely spot on with Vaughn. We never see his evil, we just kind of… hear rumors… which could be scary, but isn't. HOWEVER, I was still incredibly intrigued by the story and plan on reading Fever.

    The only thing I really disagree with you about is that I wanted Rhine to spend more time considering staying at the mansion. I couldn't figure out what was so great about the outside world that she wasn't really tempted to not run away.

    Thanks for hosting this event and finally getting it of my TBR pile.

    1. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      April 3, 2012 at 4:07 am

      Yeah, she really could have spent more time debating whether it was really worth it to escape. But I guess when you've got family that you're worried about, that kind of makes your decision clear.

      Thanks for participating and I'm looking forward to reading your review!

  6. Debz

    April 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    I agree with your review a lot. I really liked the sister wives and their relationships. My favorite scenes were probably when they were talking in the library. My review also sounds pretty negative, despite really enjoying it!

    And I have a quick question! Would my "Make It a Movie" post count as a discussion post? I really don't care that much, I'm just curious!


    1. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      April 3, 2012 at 7:48 pm

      Yes! I think your "Make It a Movie" post definitely counts towards the Catch Wither Fever event! I'm about to add it and your review to the Catch Wither Fever Event Post List. And don't forget that your "Make It a Movie" post plus your "March Read-A-Longs" post, where you were spreading the word about the event, both count as extra entries in the Rafflecopter drawing! Just use the link for the "March Read-A-Longs" as the entry for marketing the event, and the "Make It a Movie" link as a discussion post, and voila! More entries!

  7. Briana

    April 4, 2012 at 12:29 am

    I actually liked Cecily, too. A lot of people are complaining she's annoying and they hated her…but that was the point. I think she's a really well-drawn character, even if I might not want to hang out with her.

    I'm actually really interested in what kind of structure is left in North America. To a large degree, it appears like absolute anarchy. I can't quite believe that Rhine never really mentions about who's in charge of the country or what they're doing to help things get better.

    I also agree with the comment above about Rhine's desperation to run away. Yeah, the whole freedom thing. That's important. But life outside sounds kind of miserable and as if she'd just get kidnapped again or murdered by hungry orphans in her sleep. I guess she just really wants to see her brother and not even ask if he can come to the mansion, since she hates Vaughn so much. Because theoretically, if bringing her brother to the mansion would make Rhine stay and be content, I think Vaughn would do it.

    1. Briana

      April 4, 2012 at 12:31 am

      Also, as a general question, since Linden is supposed to be under the impression that everyone came to his house willingly, exactly what lie has he been told that convinced him his lovely wives should be locked in a hallway for weeks until he could trust them? That makes no sense if they came of their own accord, but he doesn't ever question it. I know he was sheltered, but still….

    2. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      April 4, 2012 at 6:24 pm

      Ah, that's so true that Vaughn would totally bring her brother there if that would make her stay! I guess since she hasn't told anyone about her family or childhood (besides occasionally telling "stories" about twins), they don't realize that the reason she wants to escape is to get back to her brother.

      And as far as Linden being oblivious – yes, he's obviously clueless. I think in the beginning, he's so preoccupied with Rose and her health that his new wives aren't even in his mind, and so he might not even find it strange that he doesn't see them for a while. But yeah, there were a lot of questions in the story that really don't seem to be answered. Some of it seems to be wrapped up in Fever, but I'm sure most of it won't be resolved until book 3.

  8. Belgie

    June 11, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Every now and then, I try reading a new author and hit pay dirt. This was definitely one of those times. This book keep me turning pages until the end and I don't think it gets any better then that when reading.

    1. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase

      June 11, 2012 at 2:32 am

      I really enjoyed it, too! Thanks so much for stopping by! ;)

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