Thursday, March 03, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Book 1 in the Chemical Garden Trilogy
Copyright 2011
Simon and Schuster BFYR - Ages 14 and up
358 pages
Dystopian YA
Release Date: March 22, 2011

Warning: This review may contain some spoilers. If you plan to read Wither soon after its release and want to be left in suspense at the beginning, please skip down to "The bottom line" for my general opinion of the book. I'm jumping the gun a bit as I want to move forward and get this one out of my sidebar before I forget what it's about. My thanks to Simon & Schuster for the review copy.

Rhine and her brother have a limited amount of time and they know it. Only recently, the marvel of genetic engineering created a nearly perfect generation. The generation of genetically enhanced humans had only one flaw . . . a virus that kills males at twenty-five and females at twenty. Every young person is a ticking time bomb. To keep the population from dying out, girls are kidnapped and sold into polygamous marriages. Those who aren't chosen may suffer an even worse fate. Only the "first generation" - the people who were not genetically altered - live normal lives.

Rhine is 16 when she's grabbed and thrown into the back of a dark truck with a large number of other young women. When she's selected to be one of 3 wives for a wealthy young man, she resolves to escape from the beautiful mansion where she and her sister wives are held captive. But, first she has to figure out exactly where they've taken her and how to escape the property. She's no longer in her hometown in New York. Here, the air is warm, the chemically-enhanced gardens lush and maze-like.

As she gets to know her sister wives and the dying "first wife" she may replace, Rhine finds their reaction to captivity differs. Each desires to be the favored first wife for different reasons. But only Rhine is determined enough to uncover the secrets of the place they live.

When Rhine finds herself falling in love with a servant named Gabriel, she admits her plan and recruits him to help her. Gabriel's easily replaceable, though, and the head of the family is a dangerous man. If Gabriel's caught, she may never see him again; and, Rhine won't know what's become of him. People have a tendency to simply disappear. Will Rhine find a way to escape before it's too late and she becomes yet another of the terrifying killer's baby-making machines . . . or worse? Or, will she spend the rest of her years a captive, forced to reproduce and not only for the sake of creating a new generation?

What I loved about Wither:

There is so much to like about this book. The author has created a believable, terrifying dystopian world. The book begins with Rhine's capture, then most of the story takes place in the mansion to which she's taken, where she is forced to marry. It's as much about the relationships -- between the women, between the wives and their shared husband, between the wives and the young servant chosen for them as well as the other servants -- as it is about Rhine's desire to escape.

The interactions between these characters are sometimes tense, often stirring, and set on a background of mystery (like, What sinister things is the first-generation father of their mutual husband, Linden, up to?) and a few everyday disasters that throw the household into an uproar. There may be plenty of introspection but there's never a dull moment. From the moment I began reading, I knew I wouldn't be able to read anything else until I'd finished Wither. Wither is gripping, fascinating, shocking, heart-rending and it ends in a way that completes the story while leaving that, "Okay, what's going to happen next?" carrot dangling in front of your little bibliophilic nose. I really, really appreciate a series author who manages to end a book such that it's satisfying and complete at the same time making it plain where the story is headed in the next installment. There's no doubt you'll want to know what happens next. I can't wait for the second book in the Chemical Garden Trilogy.

What I disliked about Wither:

Wither is so realistic that it is often horrifying. I wouldn't say I disliked that, but it definitely is a book that can push you out of your comfort zone. There's plenty of graphic description of the dying Lady Rose's illness, talk about sex amongst the sister wives, and always the lurking fear that what happened to those not chosen could just as easily happen to Rhine (or anyone else in the house) if they break the rules or try to escape. It's genuinely tense. Even my dislikes, in other words, actually are a part of what makes the book an excellent read. If Wither was a movie, I'd give it a PG-13 rating.

The bottom line:

Highly recommended for lovers of dystopian fiction. Exceptionally believable world-building, knuckle-biting tension, excellent character development, dialogue and interaction, wonderful plotting and a story that is beautifully wrapped up, yet definitely makes the reader anxious to know what will happen next, make Wither a solid entry in the dystopian young adult fiction category. Also, it's one of my favorite books, so far this year. PG-13 for graphic descriptions of illness, childbirth and talk about sex. I doubt there's anything that would warp a youngster if they sneak it off your bedside table, though.

Cover thoughts:

The cover is not only stunning but also does, in fact, fit the book. Rhine is primped and fluffed and fussed over, dolled up to marry or to meet her husband in private or to attend a party, on several occasions. So, that layer-cake of a dress is fitting, as is her hairdo. I absolutely love the architectural look of the lettering, as well.

I think this post requires a kitty photo:

Isabel hoists the white paw of surrender -- surrender to a nice, long cat nap, that is.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I didn't read your entire review for fear of spoilers, as I am going to read this one really soon. I am rather excited about it though, since I have heard some really good things. Glad to hear that you really enjoyed this one!

  2. Zibilee,

    I think it's best not to read the whole thing if you're planning to read Wither, anytime soon. I'm not sure if I gave too much away, but better safe than sorry. It's a really terrific book. Two months have passed since I finished reading it and it's still pretty clear in my mind. It'll stick with you, that's for sure! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  3. I've glossed over some other reviews of this book, but yours makes me want to actually go out and read it! Love the cheerful daffodil in your header. Starting to feel like spring!

  4. Jeane,

    It's a much deeper read than a lot of YA and I think that's one reason I really enjoyed Wither, even though it's a harsh, sad world. You can really get behind the heroine. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! :)

    As to the springy header -- I'm just now uploading some pics of blooming things to add to my sidebar. The daffodils have already finished blooming and withered. I miss them, but there's plenty of springiness going on around here. LOL

  5. I like dystopian when it's done right and it sounds like this one was. I wish I could give into a cat nap.

  6. Kathy,

    Me, too; I'm really quite a fan of dystopian novels, but only if they're done well. This one sucked me in like crazy. I could use a cat nap, too. No such luck. I've got important errands to run.

  7. Oh, my! I've so been wanting to read this one! The cover, the story line - all of it just sounds brilliant! Love the kitty paw, too! I think that's what finally sold me on picking this one up! :)

  8. Coffee and Book Chick,

    I don't think this about many books, but I really think Wither is one worth rushing out to buy as a new release. It has stuck with me and if the rest of the series was out, I'd be out there buying them all.

    Haha! Now all the publishers of the world are going to wish I'd put kitty-paw pics in with reviews of their books. :)

  9. This book looks good and is getting mostly positive reviews. I think I might have to check it out one of these days...

  10. Your weather must be ahead of ours. My daffodils are still just barely coming out of the ground. I do have blooming crocus, though!

  11. Skimmed the review because I'm interested in reading this one. The cover and title caught my attention, and I like dystopian fiction. Thanks, Nancy!

  12. Kelly,

    Aha! If you've seen other reviews, that means I'm not the only blogger who jumped the gun. Wahoo for that! :) It's a really gripping book. The dystopian world Rhine lives in is harsh, but you can't help but root for her.


    Our weather is always ahead of everyone else's. We're subtropical, so we have a long, long summer and an 11-month pollen season. The last two winters have been unusually long. It's not unheard of for us to have about 2 cold weeks and then on we go, right into spring. I could stand to move to a really cold climate for a few years.


    I think you'd like Wither. I thought the writing was better than most YA writing -- not quite so light. She took her dystopian world seriously and the heroine is at times deeply emotional but she's courageous, as well.

  13. Izzy's picture cracked me up! Keep 'em coming!

  14. I took your advice and just read your bottom line as I have this one lined up to read soon. I'm super excited to read it as it sounds really good!

  15. Les,

    Izzy's such a funny girl. I love these kitten months, when they're into everything but when they sleep, they crash hard. She's just ridiculously cute. :)


    I thought Wither was one of the best dystopian YA books I've ever read (I haven't yet gotten to The Hunger Games, so I can't compare, but the writing is sharper than most, in my humble opinion). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I'm glad you skipped past the meat of the review; I'd hate to spoil anything.

  16. I skipped down to the bottom line part so know nothing other than the fact it's a dystopian ya. haha! However, that's the kind Chris seems to like so I'm going to recommend this one to him.

  17. Kris,

    Hmm, I wonder if Chris will think this one is too girly for him. It's a great read, but I'd be more inclined to recommend it to you than him. If he does read it, you'll have to let me know.


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