Monday, March 21, 2011

REVIEW: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

(The Chemical Garden Trilogy #1)

by Lauren DeStefano
Releases on 03.22.2011
356 pages
Simon and Schuster
Source: ARC from fellow blogger

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 (from GoodReads).

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?


  1. I love that "Fate is a thief." line. I loved this book, it was very thought-provoking for me. Great review! :)

    Jess @ Gone with the Words

  2. I enjoyed reading your review. I'm not sure if this book is for me, but I'm glad I read your review.

  3. Great review. I struggled with this book not because of the writing but because of the premise. I am glad you enjoyed it.

  4. @Jess - I really liked that line, too! It was a thought-provoking read - I wished I could've gone through all the questions it raises, but I didn't want to spoil anything.

    @SR - it won't be for everyone, especially if you have trouble with the subject matter, but it's an interesting book.

    @Nic - I struggled with the premise, too. I still want to know what will happen with Rhine, though!

  5. Hmmm...I asked the same question:

    Cushy set-up or living with rats? The former, obvs!

  6. I really appreciate your thoughtful review Linds.

    I'm with Nic and Lenore.

    I just can't make sense of the world building because you have these super humans, the first generation, that are older and a whole bunch of orphans running around and pretty soon they will be canceling each other out. It did seem cruel and selfish to bring more children into that world.

    It just kind of upset me that Rhine was "excused" from what the others didn't have much of a choice on, plus she got to be first wife. I already feel like I know what will happen next.

    I've tried to go back and think of ways to reconnect with the book after every positive review I read, but I just can't. I felt the ambiguous ending is better than what I know is coming. Sorry for whining. Glad you liked it.

  7. Beautiful review as always Linds, I just loved this one. I love that everyone's reaction to it seems to be drastically different, and I love that there are so many questions raised in the story that gave me pause and made me think about what that life would be like. I'm with you on not having children though, if I only lived to 20 and knew what happened to children in this world, I wouldn't be in a hurry to have them, but that's just me:) Can't wait for book 2!

  8. Awesome review Linds! I really enjoyed Wither, though I found that the lack of background on the disease was a bit distressing. I hope it's tackled in book 2 because I worry authors just assume we'll settle for unanswered questions, you know? The premise was fascinating, and I definitely loved the characters (Rhine was fab, as was Linden - liked him more than Gabriel!) :)

  9. @Lenore - I said the same thing! I was like, "Rhine, honey, you got four years - work some magic and get your brother in there!"

    @Missie - "t just kind of upset me that Rhine was "excused" from what the others didn't have much of a choice on, plus she got to be first wife." I know EXACTLY what you mean - that part bugged me, too! I mean. . . I know Linden was kind of an easy-going guy, but I am quite certain she wasn't kidnapped to merely be his arm candy! I can understand your trouble in connecting . . . . I want to know what happens, and I liked the book, but I'm not in love.

    @Jenny - Oh yeah, hecks no on the kids if I'm croaking at 20. I am also looking forward to two, but I hope we get more insight into everything. I need it to pick up juuuuuust a little.

    @Melissa - The lack of background on the virus didn't bug me as much. After all, we don't know precisely where HIV came from - we have theories, and a pretty good idea, but even when we didn't, what mattered was that it killed. From the emphasis on manufactured living and laboratories, I wouldn't be surprised if we find out in a later book that the virus is man made or something. I liked Linden, but I'm not sold on him over Gabe - there were times I just wanted to scream and say "Don't you see your dad is a LOON!! Spike his Metamucil!!"

  10. Loved your review!

    However, I'm not sure this book is for me. I've read a lot of mixed reviews, and from what you've said, this is another beautifully written, yet slow moving, dystopian. I've read a couple of those lately, and I think I must have a short attention span because they're just not doing it for me!

    I'm still not sure if I'm going to read this one. Hmmm...

  11. I haven't read this one yet but it sounds really intriguing. You've brought up some really good points. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  12. I think I've read way too many positive, gushing reivews, so this is really refreshing. I've wanted to read this book for a while and I still will, but you totally brought up some great points. I don't want kids if I'm living till 20 either! I think this is the type of book that makes you think, and I tend to enjoy those ones :) Plus the whole "chemical garden" is just perfectly properly creepy IMO. Anyways, great review as always Linds!

  13. @Leanna - eh, it might not be. I am starting to get a wee bit picky with my dystopian, but it's all good, because it's shoving me more into sci-fi and spec lit. I still liked this one, though. Liked, not loved.

    @MR - I wish I could bring up more, but then there would be spoilers galore!

    @Audrey - I look forward to hearing what you think! I think the series has promise, and I look forward to book two, but yeah, there was some things here and there that kept it being a top read for me.

  14. I'm intrigued about this one for all the same reasons you are. The concept has some interesting obstacles to surmount and it seems like it didn't quite get over them for you. I'm looking forward to this one.

  15. Many people are mentioning the lack of talk on the disease...that didn't even cross my mind. I must have been to wrapped up the the story. I really loved it! I do know some people, as some have mentioned, had a problem with the polygamist part of the story, which I understand.

  16. I think that this book is getting a lot of mixed reviews. Some people like it and others didn't. Nice review!

  17. Right on, Linds. I didn't understand the need to have kids either or that opening scene of the van filled with girls and their outcome. It seemed contradictory to me. I also have no clue where the book is going, but like you, I'm vested enough in the characters to know why.

  18. First off, let me start out by saying this was my favorite debut author book for 2011. I love the aithor's writing style. To answer a few of your questions:

    1.) I think I'd much rather spend the rest of my life at Lind's home as opposed to braving the apocalyptic world beyond it's gates.

    2.) The idea of having children is because the people who do believe the scientists are going to find a cure, then they will not leave their children orphaned.