Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: Chemical Garden #1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: March 22nd 2011
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, Rhine has one purpose: to escape. 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 limted time she has left.
Wither is a story about control and confinement, set in a futuristic world where, other than North America, no continents exist as a result of war. The themes in this novel are mature, a stark contrast to the lighter YA I have read recently. In this novel, we are transported to a frightening and eerily realistic world from the very first page when the main character, Rhine, is being kidnapped by strange men in grey coats. From there, Wither takes us on a dark and chilling journey as the captives try to escape their deadly fate.
From the summary, one may think that there is a significant amount of romance. I was surprised when I found that this wasn't the case, though that did not at all lessen Wither's quality. The love story serves as the minor plot line, while the majority of the book follows Rhine's experience as a first wife and her struggles with escaping. She, along with two other girls, are captured and married to a boy named Linden. While he is always kind to Rhine and favours her over the other girls, I don't feel as if his love for Rhine is ever genuine (he seems to fall in and out of love/like/lust constantly) so I wasn't able to fully connect with him. That's ignoring his complete cluelessness, naivety and ability to conjure up my frustration like no other. Gabriel, a servant at the mansion who Rhine becomes close with, is better. I was able to sympathise with him and see that he truly cares for her. Neither boy has a particularly strong romance with her, but the mystery and thriller makes up for it.
Because of this virus, many are trying to find a cure while some are resigned to their fates. Linden's father is one of those looking for a cure, but not with conventional methods. He has no qualms about dissecting bodies and killing to reach his end goal. Housemaster Vaughn is a truly frightening character, as his thoughts and actions are cold, calculating, misleading and deadly. He is the cause of much death and is the main source of fear in the mansion. There is a strong theme throughout the book which is portrayed through his character - some will do anything to get what they want, even if it breaks every single moral code in existence; it's just a means to an end. The explored issues of child trafficking, teen pregnancies and complete exploitation are realistic and very present in our society. I would think that this book will really strike a chord with many readers and open eyes. Although this is not a fun and lighthearted story with a whole lot happening, there isn't ever a sense of boredom. Every scene is captivating, no matter how ordinary and mundane, and will hold your attention until the very end.
A lot of this has to do with the brilliant characters that have been constructed. They are unique and will provoke a multitude of emotions from you as they each serve a different purpose and fill different roles. Rhine is a very strong female character who isn't afraid to defend herself and fight for freedom. Linden is sometimes aggravating but does have a sweet side…in that oblivious sort of way. Gabriel's impossible not to love and he and Rhine share some great scenes. Because of his charm and ability to make her feel free, Rhine quickly becomes attached which is so enjoyable to read! I, like most readers I think, loved the sister wives, Jenna and Cecily. Jenna is nineteen, one year away from death, and assumes the motherly role for the girls, doing everything in her ability to help and protect them. Cecily, on the other hand, has just become a teenager and quickly falls pregnant. She is the perfect stereotype of a naive girl who wants nothing more than to become a woman, eager to receive love and attention. Linden's willingness to oblige her made me dislike him a little too… There are, of course, others characters such as the servants who I loved also!
Rhine. The river that, somewhere out there, has broken free.
There are leaves everywhere, red, and brown-splattered yellow. When nobody is around, I gather the leaves into piles and bury myself. I breathe in the dampness of them. I feel like a little girl again. I stay hidden until the wind takes them away in spiraling ribbons. “I want to go with you,” I say.
Lauren DeStefano writes in a style filled with beautiful imagery, so much so that you can't help but get dizzyingly lost in the words. She skilfully weaves her way in and out of scenes where one moment you're admiring the nature, and in the next you're trying hard not to dwell on the insistently disturbing images. Wither is an intense story that will stay with you and leave you wanting more. If the cover didn't make you want to read it already, hopefully this will!