WITHER by Lauren DeStefano
Release Date: March 22, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Series: The Chemical Garden Trilogy (Book #1)
“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?”
Short and sweet version: SO glad I decided to pick this book up! I had been on the fence about it for awhile, wasn’t sure I would like reading a book about a polygamist marriage and the dire need to reproduce because of the short lifespan of everyone. Kidnapping and being sold into prostitution really scares me, as well, so I’m sure you can understand my hesitation reading this. This book was nothing like I expected, in all the best ways possible.
WITHER follows a 16 year old girl named Rhine, who has been kidnapped and sold to become one of four wives to a wealthy architect named Linden. She is taken away from her home in Manhattan and from her twin brother, Rowan. Throughout her stay in the lavish mansion, owned by Linden’s father Housemaster Vaughn, Rhine craves freedom and being in a place she knows and loves. Reluctant to get to know her fellow sister wives and form any sign of attachment to her new husband, Rhine is determined to escape her prison with a servant boy she has become quite fond of. Unfortunately, Housemaster Vaughn has other plans for the guests in his home.
Unlike what I was worried about reading from the summary, this book is all about the desire to be free for the last few remaining years of life and what you are willing to sacrifice to get that freedom. There is plenty of suspense and mystery, especially surrounding Vaughn’s experiments down in the basement. This was a great read that didn’t leave me exhausted from loads of violence and destruction, like most futuristic novels. It is a very realistic feeling story–as realistic as a world where a virus is programmed to kill you at age 20 or 25, depending on your gender is–and I was instantly drawn into this new world with concern for Rhine’s future throughout the whole thing. DeStefano did an excellent job with developing each character, main characters and secondary characters alike. I especially loved how we got little pieces of Rhine’s past throughout the novel, never knowing everything about her all at once. It was like we were learning about her along with her sister wives. At times, I found the passage of time a bit confusing to keep up with. It would seem like Rhine is dreaming about something and that dream ended up lasting a couple of days. Luckily, DeStefano would mention how long it’s been since Rhine has been in the mansion. If she hadn’t, I would never had known it had been so long. I guess if you’re imprisoned in a mansion with no hope of ever leaving, how long you’ve been there doesn’t really matter. DeStefano did write very eloquently and I could just imagine all the lavish things Rhine was given. Although everyone in the mansion claimed that Rhine could have everything she could ever want, I could literally feel the desperation she had to just go back to her life before. The saying that “all that glitters is not gold” could not be any truer about living in that mansion.
There were times when I was elated and had a feeling of warmth that everything was going to work out and then times where I was overwhelmed with a feeling of doom. I cried and felt defeated when Rhine did. I felt confused and emotionally raw when she did. DeStefano draws you into Rhine’s head and never lets you miss a moment of what being her is like in this life. The ending had me desperate to know what would happen when I turned the page. If you read it, you’ll understand why! Lauren does a fantastic job ending the novel and it left me with a small sliver of hope in this sad, messed up world. If this was a stand-alone novel, I would’ve been satisfied at the ending. Knowing that it’s a trilogy, I’m quite nervous to find out what happens next! I’ve grown to care about all these characters, even the ones I feel like I shouldn’t like (except Vaughn). It’ll be interesting to see what happens to all of them! I do wish DeStefano had gone into more detail about the types of things Vaughn was up to. It was mentioned, quite often, that he was doing secretive work that wasn’t just for the good of mankind, but we were never allowed to know what it was he was actually doing. Hopefully she’ll let us know more things about his experiments in the next book. I highly recommend reading this book! It definitely surprised me and I’m glad I gave it a chance. It’s nothing like you’d expect, and I’m sure you’ll love it, too!
Overall Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)