#1 in the Chemical Garden Trilogy
Author – Lauren DeStefano
Rating – A- Nearly Perfect; A Keeper/2 – Implied or mild
Reading Level – Young Adult
Pages – 358
Publisher – Simon and Schuster BFYR
Release Date – 2011
Source – Public Library
Lauren DeStefano creates an incredibly addictive world in Wither. It is set in some unknown date in the not so distant future. The world has been decimated by nuclear war and only North America has come out of the battle with remaining land. Everything else is buried under the ocean. A cure for cancer and all other horrible diseases has been discovered but at a cost so high no one could conceive of it. The first generation of children with the vaccine are healthy and happy and they are ensured to have long lives. It seems like everything should be fine from now on. Until they start to have children. The children of the “first generations” don’t get the same guarantee as their parents. Their children die so early in life. Men can live up to twenty-five years and women until twenty. Then a mysterious virus claims them. No one has ever survived. No one has found an antidote.
Rhine is born into this world. For the most part, life has been good to her. She had two wonderful parents. They were genetic engineers and then one day they weren’t there anymore. They had been murdered and life for Rhine changes forever. At least she has her brother Rowan. She and Rowan are able to make their lives better than most. They take turns at night protecting themselves and their meager belongings. Rowan is able to do delivery work for the warehouses and Rhine can occasionally get work taking telephone orders. Life is better than what most people have.
Then one day Rhine answers an ad for bone marrow donations. The ad states that the researcher is willing to pay good money. Rhine doesn’t tell Rowan that she’s going. She doesn’t want to worry her twin needlessly. Except that there is no bone marrow donations. Instead there are Gathers. Men who kidnap young girls and take them to be used in one way or another. The girls are either sold into prostitution or sold as brides. If they don’t make the cut, they are murdered. Wealthy men often buy their brides in hopes of generating a family to keep the line going. Rhine is thrown into the back of a dark van and that is where our story opens.
Rhine and two other girls are chosen from the line of girls that have been locked in the van together for days. They are ushered to a limousine and then knocked out with a sleeping gas. Not quickly enough. The girls hear one gunshot before they fall asleep. When they wake up, they know that all the remaining girls were murdered. Rhine, Jenna and Cecily are now to be the wives of a rich man who lives in Florida. Rhine is distressed to hear she is so far from her native Manhattan. She doesn’t want to be here, she doesn’t want to be Linden Ashby’s wife and she will escape this horror.
The wives all occupy the same floor of the mansion where they now reside. It is huge and has everything a girl could want or need. It is also fully staffed and the girls are treated lavishly. If only Rhine hadn’t been stolen and viciously ripped from her life, she could get used to this. Rowan is alone and probably half out of his mind wondering what has happened to her. Thankfully Rhine finds solace in her sister wife Jenna and their meal attendant Gabriel. Gabriel and Rhine share something that neither has to communicate. They have a bond with barely having a conversation. It’s in the way they behave towards each other. They have conversations with their actions because their words could be overheard at any time. They steal moments together when they can get them and cherish them.
Rhine’s husband is as much a prisoner as she is and she begins to grow fond of him. Linden’s father however is a different story. He controls everything in his house. From his staff to his son to his son’s new wives. Everything done in Housemaster Vaughn’s mansion is known to him. How can Rhine possibly hope to escape him? Rhine begins to include Gabriel in her fantasies of escape. Can she trust him with her secrets?
Oh my gosh! I can tell you right now that joining the Story Siren’s 2011 Debut Author Challenge was made completely worth it with this book alone. I probably would have never picked up this book had it not been part of the challenge options. The cover is stunning but still, the storyline didn’t sound like something that I would like traditionally. Lauren DeStefano grabs you in the first few sentences of her debut novel and she will not let you go. I came to care for each and every one of her characters as if they were real people. She paints a story of a world that to me is inconceivable and she makes me believe it. The world in which Rhine lives isn’t impossible to imagine. There’s a lot in it that very well could happen it just might not be in my lifetime. Imagine thinking we’ve found a cure for cancer. Then twenty years later we find out that our children have such shortened life spans? It’s a cruel and horrible price to pay.
Wither deals with some pretty heavy material: forced marriages, abduction, polygamy, early pregnancies and death. I would recommend this for young adults sixteen and up. While you would think that this may be some pretty depressing material, DeStefano writes with an underlying hope. You believe in Rhine as much as she believes in herself and you cheer her on and hope for the best. It’s a book, it HAS to have a happy ending, right?
While the book isn’t resolved by the end, it is a trilogy. I am eagerly anticipating the next installment in the Chemical Garden Trilogy.