Wither by Lauren DeStefano – Mini Book Review

Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This is the first book in the Chemical Garden trilogy.

Okay, so, here’s the deal. I read Wither months and months ago and the review got put off and put off, because I had some major issues with the book, and the negative reviews are never fun to write. The writing was perfectly good, but the main character was annoying and the world that DeStefano created didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to me.

Before I go any further, here’s the publisher’s synopsis from Indiebound:

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?

It had the potential to be a really interesting story, especially as it was repeatedly compared to The Handmaid’s Tale. This world was much more one created by circumstances, however, as opposed to malevolent forces within the government. We’ve got science-created shortened lifespans and most of the rest of the world allegedly destroyed by melting ice caps, but Rhine is kidnapped and taken to Florida, which is evidently not underwater (yup, you read that right).

My biggest issue was with the technology. I could have accepted a lack of many of the technologies that we know now had society fully collapsed after the geneticists screwed things up, but there was some pretty elaborate technology and yet nobody even mentioned a computer.

I’m also not completely convinced that there were need to be Gatherers to kidnap girls and take them to these polygamous marriages. Rhine and so many other girls were living in constant fear of being murdered for the little food they had, or alternatively starving to death. In contrast, her life for Linden is pampered and easy, if somewhat constrained. It seems that there would be hungry girls vying for these spaces, if only to get by.

Wither got a lot of love when it came out, but I am relieved to find that I am not the only one to have had serious issues with it (and everyone seems confused about the Florida thing). There is a very interesting review on Goodreads that goes into even more detail, and points a few things out that I missed.

I think I’d be interested if DeStefano tried her hand at something contemporary, but I’m less than impressed with her world creating, and I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of the Chemical Garden trilogy.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Publisher, via GalleyGrab.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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12 comments to Wither by Lauren DeStefano – Mini Book Review

  • I’ve seen so many positive reviews of this book that it’s refreshing to see a negative one. I’m not sure I’ll try it. I like dystopias, but I’m a little tired of them now.

  • I enjoyed this book right after I read it, but it’s one of those that has made me raise an eyebrow with time. I’ll likely still read the rest of the series, but I agree with a lot of the criticisms you’ve made.

  • Thanks for this review — I’ve seen only swoon-y reviews so I appreciate your feedback (I too hate writing negative reviews). Will pass on this — my TBR is too huge!

  • Even with all the great reviews, I was never tempted to read it. It seemed just a little to out there.

  • I had the same thought about the Gatherers. It made no sense to me that they were rounding up girls like that. It seems there would have been plenty of girls like Celia that would have loved to trade freely their poor lives for a rich one. It would make sense for Rhine to be kidnapped since she clearly had something different genetically going on–which was and wasn’t being acknowledged during the book. But in the world that DeStephano created, I don’t think the Gatherers make much sense.

    It also made no sense that Linden seemed to have no concept of why the girls didn’t want to be there. I had a similar thought about the computers, though maybe if you considered this an “alternate reality” the fact that they had sophisticated but different technology isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker.

    I didn’t completely hate it, and I think might check out the next one to see if she fills in some holes.

  • I saw all the buzz about this book when it came out, but never really thought it was a book for me.

  • That’s too bad about this book. I have heard a lot about it, but I haven’t really thought about reading it myself.

  • Ha. I hadn’t thought about the ice caps/Florida problem. I think the highest point in Florida is 300 feet above sea level and I think I live 20 feet above sea level. Florida definitely won’t be here when the ice caps melt.

    • From what I was reading, some people think that things aren’t as bad in their society as people believe, like maybe the ice cap things is a lie. That could be an interesting way of offering us that hint, but still…

  • kay

    Very interesting review, particularly refreshing after so many positive ones! I found that I have had a lot of disappointments with YA dystopian novels this year, and every time, it comes down to world-building. I have a feeling I’ll have a similar opinion of this one once I pull it from my TBR pile!

  • I actually liked this one although I don’t read a lot of books like it so I found it to be a refreshing change. It kept my attention throughout and left me curious to see what will happen next. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts on it!

  • I had the exact same feelings on a number of things, including the Gatherers, and I also felt that Linden and Gabriel were fairly superficial characters. I don’t understand Gabriel’s motivation to leave when all he’s known is the life in the orphanage and then the mansion, because I never felt the connection between Gabriel and Rhine. Not to mention, what does Gabriel really look like? I never got a solid sense of his physical characteristics. I will probably pick up the second book just to see if these are all areas that possibly are expounded on.

    I linked to your review at the end of my post today as well.