Series: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 1
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR
Author Website: www.laurendestefano.com
Twitter: @LaurenDeStefano, @SimonTEEN
Format: ARC paperback from publisher for review
Available: 3-22-11 (available now in some locations)
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
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?
In an attempt to eliminate disease and create a perfect person, science has doomed the human race. The first generation of this new miracle are healthy and live normal lives. However, it's their children and all following children who are doomed. All men now die at 25, women at 20. It's a genetic virus that scientists and geneticists are scrambling to find a cure for, but in the meantime society is slowly unraveling at the seems. Orphans will try anything to find home and shelter, even selling themselves to science; girls are kidnapped and sold to polygamous marriages in order to bear children. Rhine is one such girl who is kidnapped. At sixteen, she still has 4 years left to bear children for her new husband, Linden Vaughn, before she succumbs to the virus. At first all she can think about is escaping the Vaughn mansion and fleeing home to her twin brother, Rowan. Eventually Rhine begins to think that Linden is just as much a captive in the mansion as are her other two sister wives, all prisoners of Linden's father, Housemaster Vaughn, who seems to be willing to go to any means to keep his son happy and find a cure for the virus.
The premise of the book was really good, but there just seemed to be a whole lot of nothing going on here. We're thrown very quickly into the story with Rhine being kidnapped and chosen to be a bride, and then the rest of the book takes on a significantly slower pace. I also couldn't help thinking from the very beginning that Wither was the lovechild of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games. I can't pinpoint exactly what made me think of this so early on in the book, but I couldn't help shake this thought as soon as it popped into my head.
The main part of the story deals with Rhine and her adjusting, with her two new sister wives, to their new life at the Vaughn mansion. Jenna, the oldest, at first refuses to let Linden touch her but eventually seems to soften toward him. Cecily, the youngest, is all to willing to escape her life as an orphan and fervently vies for Linden's attention and is all too willing to bear a child for him. Rhine seems to fluctuate somewhere in the middle, and Linden obviously bears the most affection for her, especially due to her resemblance to the love of his life, Rose. The problem here, I found, is that while we are given bits and pieces to the puzzle surrounding Housemaster Vaughn and his interference in everyone's lives, including his own son, there isn't a whole lot that happens that moves the story forward. Quite a bit seems to happen in the background, without much presented in the way to show it happening. For instance, the seemingly out of the blue (at least to me) love connection between Rhine and one of the household assistants, Gabriel. They only meet a handful of times and suddenly they seem to be completely infatuated with each other. As the story progresses, their relationship is then given time to grow, but their relationship growing so close, so quickly, at the beginning of the story seemed too convenient a plot point for me.
Another problem that I had with the story was one portion of the worldbuilding, and that had to due with the orphans. It's mentioned frequently that there are numerous orphans who live on the streets, and it makes sense since the parents are dying so young. Yet, it would seem to me that if the whole idea in this world is to try to keep the human race alive, there would be contingencies in place for these orphans, to try to find a way to help them live and not let them die on the streets. Maybe I'm missing something here, but it just seemed that this entire idea seemed a little off to me.
Given the problems I had with the story, I'm still impressed with the premise behind the idea. While this first volume ended in a way that I would have been willing to accept as the type of vague ending where the reader can take their own ideas on where the characters will be going next and leave it at that, I'm also interested to see where DeStefano is going to take these characters, and to me that's what really makes for a good book. So, problems aside, DeStefano sucked me into her world and I want to know what happens next.
Wither will be released on March 22, 2011 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (some stores may have it on shelves now).