Author: Lauren DeStefano
Release Date: March 22, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s
Genre: Dystopian, Teen/YA
Rating: 4 out of 5
Rhine Ellery is just sixteen when she is taken against her will and forced to become one of three wives to a wealthy (and somewhat kind) man, Linden. In Rhine’s world, all the continents besides the United States have been destroyed by nuclear war and are uninhabitable. What’s more, as a result of too much genetic testing and manipulation, people now produce offspring that live shortened lifespans – men only live until the age of 25 and women, like Rhine, until 20. Rhine refuses to waste her last few years in a forced marriage and is determined to escape and return to her brother.
In YA, it seems like there is constant buzz when it comes to dystopian titles. Just as the hottest titles are being released, the community will sets its sights on an upcoming book, and attention will shift to focus on that book. Right now, that book is Wither by Lauren DeStefano, and since I’ve been enjoying the dystopian novels I’ve read lately, I was looking forward to reading it.
Wither has an interesting premise. With such shortened lifespans, people are required to cram as much life into the little time they have. There is no real mystery about when they’ll die. DeStefano’s worldbuilding is good in Wither, but it left me wanting a little because there is not a lot of information about Rhine’s world. Because Rhine doesn’t know the truth of what is happening, the reader doesn’t either. Since Wither is the first book in a trilogy, presumably we will learn more about where Rhine comes from, the war, and the genetic testing in future novels.
I really appreciated the moral dilemma Rhine suffers as the novel progresses. When she is kidnapped, all Rhine can think of is getting back to her twin brother. Even when she discovers she is very far away from home and escape seems impossible, that’s all she can think about. It’s what drives her, the thought of reuniting with her twin. However, as she becomes used to life in luxury and gets to know Linden and her sister wives, sometimes she forgets her anger. There’s nothing wrong with a girl of sixteen wanting to live in comfort and forget about the hardships of life for awhile, yet Rhine hates herself for it. It’s a really interesting dilemma and DeStefano writes it well.
There was a sense of foreboding hanging over the entire novel, and I’m not sure it developed satisfyingly. Linden’s father is a mysterious and forbidding character (he’s of the generation before the genetic manipulation, so he will outlive his son), and it’s clear that there is something twisted about him. As the book progresses and the reader learns more, it’s clear there is something going on beneath the surface. I’m not sure if the full explanation was what was given in the novel, but I felt like there was more going on there, and as a result, was disappointed with the outcome.
Rhine was certainly an interesting character, and I look forward to visiting with her again in the second and third novels of The Chemical Garden Trilogy. DeStefano has written a haunting dystopian novel, and though I wish I had learned more about the setting, it was an intriguing read.