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.
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