Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Chemical Garden Trilogy # 1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Number of pages: 345
My copy: ebook from Galley Grab
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.
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Wither is one of those books that the book bloggers have been abuzz with ever since the cover came out. And who wouldn’t be mesmerized by such a beautiful cover? I wasn’t much of a cover person then, but I knew that I took a mental note of this book and was thrilled to see it as one of the e-galleys available in Simon & Schuster’s Galley Grab.
This is the first book in the Chemical Garden trilogy, and it tells a dystopian world sometime into a future where diseases are removed through genetic experiments, producing a first generation of almost immortal human beings who can live their lives in full health. However, as soon as this first generation started to reproduce, they found a fatal flaw: the offspring of the first generation die before they reach their thirties. Specifically, males live up to twenty five while females pass away as they reach twenty. To keep the population growing, young girls are forced into polygamous marriages and some of their offspring were tested to find an antidote to to stop their children from dying.
Rhine Ellery is 16 and was captured by the Gatherers in a fake job interview and she was bought as a wife for Linden Ashby by his father, Housemaster Vaughn. Rhine gets married and becomes an Ashby by name but swears to find a way out and be reunited with her twin brother. However, as she tries to find a way to escape, she discovers disturbing things about the Ashby household, finds herself softening towards her husband and sister-wives and falls in love.
If I were asked to choose a word to describe Wither, it’s interesting. My initial attraction to the book came from it being classified under dystopia, and we all know how I’ve grown to love that sub-genre in the past year. I liked Rhine right at the start. Her voice is strong and clear and she was tough but not without being compassionate. She knows she’s doomed to die in four years but I liked that she still seemed to have little hopes and dreams, one that helped her survive her ordeal. Reading the story in Rhine’s point of view kind of reminded me of The Hunger Games, without the thundering background music and the immediate need to survive. Rhine’s background music would fall a bit on a classical piece that starts out as calm and languid at first then builds up to a crescendo as we get to the exciting parts. Rhine isn’t a Katniss, but there were some similarities in their personalities — particularly their resiliency — that reminded me of Suzanne Collins’ beloved character. Oh and I also found it really cool that Rhine had differently colored eyes — heterochromia, as they call it. I couldn’t help but shriek, “Graceling!” when I read that part. :)
However, as far as the dystopian aspect of Wither goes, I found it a bit lacking. I’m no expert in how dystopia should be unlike some people I know, but I wasn’t very satisfied with how Rhine’s world came to be. Sure, I understand there would be mass panic when they find out the flaw in their genetic experiments, but how could there be so much destruction that all the other continents were wiped out except for North America? I understand the population woes, so why kill the girls then? Why are there so many orphans? There were so many why’s and how’s that I found the world building a bit faulty, despite it being vivid. Perhaps my questions would be answered in the next two books?
I also have a tiny beef with the ending, but it’s just me nitpicking. It’s not a cliffhanger, but I really wish there was more. I guess I was looking for more action in the ending? I kind of wanted something bigger, something more explosive to happen in the end. It may just be me and my expectations for dystopian novels. The ending for Wither felt a little too much…I don’t know, dreamy? That isn’t bad, but just kind of threw me off the loop. I was expecting a little bit more action, and I wanted to know what happened to the other characters, too. But again, I guess that is why this is part of a trilogy. It’s kind of like how Carrie Ryan ended her zombie books — if you don’t know that there will be a next book in the series, you’d feel like you were cheated from an ending with closure.
Despite its faults and my nitpicks, Wither is still a good read, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. If dystopian novels had genders, this would definitely be a female — no battle scenes or gory deaths here, boys. :) It’s bleak and disturbing yet still romantic, emotional and somewhat hopeful. If you’re not into reading bleak and hardcore dystopian novels, then Wither may be the book for you.