Book 1 in the Chemical Garden Trilogy
Simon and Schuster BFYR - Ages 14 and up
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.
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.