(The Chemical Garden Trilogy #1)
by Lauren DeStefano
Releases on 03.22.2011
Simon and Schuster
Source: ARC from fellow blogger
REVIEW: This book has a lot of hype, and I was extremely excited to read it for a few different reasons: 1) I love a good dystopian book; 2) I love a good 'issues' book, particularly if it affects young women. Doesn't matter if it's fiction or nonfiction, I love reading about 'issues'; 3) anything that smacks of FDLS interests me - that whole concept fascinates me in a heebie-jeebie kind of way.
First off, Lauren DeStefano is a beautiful writer. That's the best part about Wither. Her descriptions are wonderful, and I never had any issues picturing what she was describing. The first chapter? I thought it was one of the most captivating intros I've recently read, and my personal opinion is that it was the most exciting part of the book. As for her characters, each is distinct and interesting, from the quietly headstrong Rhine, to the complex Jenna, to the child-bride Cecily. Housemaster Vaughn is a creepy, creepy old man, and his son Linden, aka, the Governor, is both pathetic and good-natured. In particular, Rhine, the protagonist and first-person narrator, has a very clear voice. I found that her intelligence and vulnerability made her a very 'real' character. At first, she quickly assesses her situation and is fiercely determined to escape from her pretty cage, but as time goes on, she occasionally finds herself slipping under the spell of her prison's charms and the kindness of Linden. As much as I think any of us would sympathize with her plight, I think we equally would find common ground with her as she starts to acknowledge her growing affection for various people in the house. With there being three different wives, the reader is treated to an excellent lesson on perspective, about how one's background can help determine how a person approaches various hardships. Straight up, if I were in Rhine's place and had to live as she and her brother did day-to-day and knew I only had four years to live, I would think, "Sweeeeet! Hey, can we get my bro a job here or something?" Would I play happy little wife in a gilded cage to spend the remaining years of my life in comfort and to secure my brother's comfort, as well? In our current 2011 world? Hell no. In Rhine's post-apocalyptic world? You better believe it. Does that sound crazy? Let me know what you think after you read. My personal opinion is that necessity and comfort are the mothers of persuasion.
The setting is fascinating, and it's also where the trilogy gets its name. Rhine lives in world that seems half real, half illusion. We don't get this sense of artificial living when she reflects on her former life with her brother in their home, but in her new life as a beautiful trophy wife (and prisoner), everything seems made up of holograms or doesn't quite seem authentic to her. She notes it when things seem 'off' - it's subtle and the plot quickly moves on to other things, but it's certainly mentioned enough times that I think that authentic living vs manufactured living is going to become even more important as we read on in the series.
The story flows very well. There is great style and consistency in DeStefano's writing, and I was pleased with her natural talent, especially since Wither is her first book. With that being said, the flow is of a softly moving stream, not a swiftly moving river. I didn't feel like any parts lagged, but nor did I feel a sense of urgency, either. After all, we are not dealing with characters who have very long to live, according to the synopsis. The book takes place in just under a year, but that's a precious amount of time considering 16-year old Rhine only has until age 20 to live. I just felt that I very comfortably drifted from one section of the book into the next. Obviously, this is part of a trilogy, and I look forward to reading what happens in the next two books as there certainly are some unanswered questions and unfinished plot lines. However, this book could so easily have been a stand-alone story or maybe a two-parter. Had it been, I think I would have found it a more fastly paced story and read it with a greater sense of urgency.
Here's the odd thing that occurred to me while reading: if I had only until age 20 to live, I would not be having any children, and supposedly, the whole premise of kidnapping girls is to have multiple wives so you can have many children so the human race can keep on keepin' on. I realize that girls in Rhine's place do not have a choice in the matter, but even if I was a guy, and knew I was going to die at 25, I still don't think having children would be on my brain. Even if Linden hypothetically had a child at 13 or 14, he would be dead by the time the kid was 11 or 12. Who am I to leave a child in such a world without me? The book does a good job of making sure that we know what happens to such children, but I still didn't understand the idea of perpetuating that. It seems kind of sick and cruel to have children when you know you won't live long enough to raise them or for them to really remember you.
Obviously, the book raises a lot of questions, and I can't discuss them all here - I would be spoiling some things for you if I did. I hope that the series moves on, we have more insight, more answers and more urgency. I am not sold on the premise, and given the ending, I am not really sure where the trilogy is going, but I am invested and intrigued enough to want to read more. The ending is not exactly a cliffhanger. I actually felt like it could have ended right there had some questions been answered beforehand. It would have been ambiguous, but it would have been a completed story. While I had some issues with the plot, DeStefano's writing is eloquent, her characters are interesting, and I overall enjoyed reading Wither. I am looking forward to seeing what happens to Rhine and Co. in book two.
(please note that these quotes are from an ARC and may be changed in a final copy - page numbers are not provided for this reason)
"I wait. They keep us in the dark for so long that we lose sense of our eyelids. We sleep huddled together like rats, staring out, and dream of our bodies swaying."
- what an opening, right?!
"And, of course, I think of my twin brother, Rowan. Without each other, we are only half of a whole. I can hardly stand the thought of him all alone in that basement at night. Will he search through the scarlet district for my face in a brothel? Will he use one of the delivery trucks for his job to look for my body on roadsides? Of all the things he could ever do, of all the places he could ever search, I am certain he will never find this mansion. . . "
"The man in white says, 'What fate has brought together, let no man tear asunder.'
Fate, I think, is a thief."
"I compare my blood sibling, Rowan, to Jenna and Cecily, who have become my sisters. And, in this blurry, somewhat inebriated state, I can almost see what Gabriel meant when he asked What has the free world got that you can't get here?