Book Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Chemical Garden #1
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3.5 stars

GoodReads Summary:
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?

“Natural humans used to live for at least eighty years, my mother told me. Sometimes a hundred. I hadn’t believed her.”(25).

This book was a…difficult read. It dealt with sensitive subjects such as polygamy and invasive medical research. Lauren DeStefano creates a futuristic world where all the continents besides North America have sunken into the sea. In an attempt to cure all disease, doctors created one generation (called the first generation) which is indeed immune to illness; but their children are not. All generations after the first have drastically shorter lifespans: males die at age 25, females at 20.
The very first sentence illustrates that the main character, Rhine Ellery, sixteen years old, has been kidnapped and is being held in a dark van with a group of other teenage girls. She knows why: she has been taken by the Gatherers, groups that are hired by wealthy men to kidnap girls to become their wives. Rhine is one of three chosen to become Lord Linden Ashby’s new brides; the rest are shot.
“Just before someone shuts the door, I hear something inside the van where the remaining girls were herded. It’s the first of what I know will be a dozen more gunshots.” (4).
 While Linden, who is 21, is kind, artistic and compassionate, his father, House Master Vaughn, is none of those things. He is a first generation doctor trying to find an antidote to the virus that kills off each generation. Rhine’s parents were also first generations trying to find an antidote, but they were killed before they could succeed. Rhine quickly finds out that Vaughn will do whatever it takes to find the cure, regardless of his patients wishes. Her only comfort at Linden’s mansion is the quiet, blue-eyed attendant Gabriel, whom she quickly finds herself becoming attached to, and Jenna her older sister-wife, who hates it at the mansion more than Rhine does. Rhine swears she will escape, swearing that she will die free.
“None of the wives mention the security guards by the door, who will probably tackle us to the ground if we try to leave without our husband.” (217).
So I felt a little bit like Britney here while reading Wither. Honestly, this book was kind of disturbing. The whole idea of polygamy makes me sick, so that element was difficult to stomach. But it’s not an unlikely possibility in the world DeStefano created. Rhine’s character seemed a little uneven to me: for a while she hated Linden and was disgusted at the idea of being his wife; then when she became first wife (the lucky one who attended parties and was the “head wife”) she began warming towards him. It was especially strange to me that her feelings continued to progress for Linden, even when she had stronger feelings for Gabriel. Vaughn made me cringe every time they mentioned his name. The youngest wife, Cecily, who is thirteen at the beginning of the book, is the only wife to have a child with Linden, and this was another topic that was hard to stomach.
It was difficult for me to like Linden because he was ok with polygamy. I understand that in his world, it was a normal thing, so why should he see what he is doing as a bad thing? But it skewed my vision of him, especially because Gabriel saw the situation for what it was, while Linden seemed clueless.
Anyway. I liked it enough to be interested in the sequel, so it’s on my to-read list! It’s definitely an interesting read that is quite different from most of the books on the YA shelves today. Even some of the similar dystopians have very different tones than Wither does.
Similar Books: Matched by Ally Condie, XVI by Julia Karr

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