Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Review: Wither (Chemical Garden #1) by Lauen DeStefano

Title: Wither (Chemical Garden #1)
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Publishing Date: March 22nd 2011
Length: 368 pages
Genre: YA, fantasy, dystopian novel

3,5/5 ***/* Wither- A colourful debut about a young woman trying to escape the promiscuous society and gloomy world she’s captured in!


~ The Author ~

Lauren DeStefano was born in New Haven, Connecticut and has never traveled far from the east coast. She received a BA in English from Albertus Magnus College recently, and has been writing since childhood. She made her authorial debut by writing on the back of children's menus at restaurants and filling up the notepads in her mom's purse. Her very first manuscript was written on a yellow legal pad with red pen, and it was about a haunted shed that ate small children.

Now that she is all grown up (for the most part), she writes fiction for young adults. Her failed career aspirations include: world's worst receptionist, coffee house barista, sympathetic tax collector, and English tutor. When she isn't writing, she's screaming obscenities at her Nintendo DS, freaking her cats out with the laser pen, or rescuing thrift store finds and reconstructing them into killer new outfits.

Author profile by www.laurendestefano.com

For further information visit www.laurendestefano.com

~ The Novel ~

Wither is Lauren DeStefano’s debut novel and the first book in the Chemical Garden trilogy, published by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing on March 22nd 2011.

~ The Story ~

What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.

Summary by Goodreads 

You can read an excerpt of Wither here

~ The Review ~

The synopsis of Wither is catching so I gladly included Lauren DeStefano’s debut novel in my Debut Author 2011 Challenge.

We are directly thrown into the story of Rhine, who is captured with two other young women, Jenna and Cecily, to please a rich doctor’s son, always locked away in a gigantic house surrounded by an even larger garden.

There are only a few different characters, nonetheless their possible reactions to each other are always unpredictable.
Rhine felt like a very authentic character to me, really easy to get acquainted with. She is not only exceptional in looks, but also differs emotionally from her kidnapped co-brides. I like her name, Rhine, originating from the European river, lets always associations pop up in my head, because I cross this river almost every day, quiet funny.

DeStefano has a talent to portray exceptional characters full of contrasts. Rhine and her fellow bride sisters couldn’t be more different.  Jenna is special for her compassion and loyalty, Cecily for her childish and naïve personality.But beside these innocent young girls, there are also cruel and malicious characters that cause great conflicts. 

Wither offers many different types of love stories, although the major romance might develop between Rhine and Gabriel. Still that doesn’t keep me from analysing other relationships between our given characters and questioning their morals.
We get to know our characters very well, relationships are featured, but a general love story comes off badly. I realize that under the given circumstances a grand and romantic love story between Rhine and Gabriel is not really possible or inappropriate and so I hope for deeper insights in their thoughts and feelings in Wither’s sequel.

All characters are always circling around one setting and the other characters. Over almost the whole novel not much happens and I rather see Wither as a character study, like an initial experiment that has potential to lead to larger events and purposes in its sequel. Probably the action is hold back so that the main focus lies on the characters and the dystopian world.

The setting and even actions are limited, the pace is rather slow. Sometimes we get glimpses of Rhine’s life back in freedom, how she lived with her twin brother (who has become one of my favourite characters without even meeting him), but that is not enough to still my desire to explore Wither’s world.

Wither is set in a dystopian world, futuristic… and sick. All its new inventions and beautiful illusions cannot hide the fact that humanity’s situation is a sad one. Men only got a life expectation of 25 years, women 20 years. That idea is thrilling, adds urgency to the character’s actions and is scary at the same time.
I always wondered how the story is supposed to develop with such a limited time span to develop actions, as our protagonist is 16-years-old, she has got four years left till she dies a painful death. Furthermore thinking of all the possibilities for our human race and that I would already be dead in such a world made me really sad.
Although DeStefano didn’t make me turning page after page restlessly, she had me emotionally involved.

Wither’s world is a super interesting construct that leaves many possibilities for future events. There is science and medical research involved, really interesting disciplines. No hard violence, sex or drugs are discussed, still this novel felt like a heavy read, because it deals with the social morals of our present society in comparison with Wither’s society.  Polygamy, kidnapping and stealing from the dead are regular topics.
A great part of Wither is about constructing its new futuristic world by establishing several moral and ethical discourses.

~ We love this book because…~

1) of a heroine with a personality as deep as the river she’s named after
2) of a beautifully bizarre world
3) sisters have to stick together
4) a lighthouse shows the way
5) of a sweet candy smuggler

~ The Verdict ~

Lauren DeStefano builds a flamboyant world, whose little inventions and conveniences kept me entertained all the time. Wither is a debut with a promising world and striking main character that leaves room for hope for a more action-packed and romance-centred sequel.  

~ Thanks to Simon & Schuster and their Galley Grab programme for giving me access to the Wither ARC!


  1. I forgot about the river, and how she was named after it... I liked that too :D Great review!

  2. I am very interested in reading Wither, but am fearful of the pacing. You mentioned this in your review, but it sounds as if the world and some of the characters make up for the slow pace. Thanks for the great review.

  3. I should have read the newsletter carefully. Because the eARC cant be redownloaded like what w can do in NetGalley. I lost the chance to read this book. :(
    But they are about to publish the translation in Indonesia in April.

    I love the way you review a book. However you just gave 3.5 for this book. It seems you quite enjoy it

  4. I'm a little bit uncomfortable with this story, I mean there is a 13 years old girl as wife! :s However, it's an entertaining novel and I'm curious to read the sequel.

  5. I agree with everything you said. While parts were slow-moving and I wasn't edge-of-my-seat, it was emotional and it got to me. Gripping and gritty. I don't know how everything will shake out by the end. Is Gabriel Rhine's true love, or just a means to escape? She could think so now b/c of her situation, but realize not so much later. Plus, this isn't the end of Linden and his father. In a strange way, I find that I like Linden...but his father is uber-creepy. I would HATE to live in a world like this. And, like you, I'd already be dead :(

  6. Really great review Sarah...seriously, I wish my review was this good. I too gave it a 3.5/5. I just feel like others will think I didn't like it so much because a 3.5 seems so bad but that really isn't the case.
    I'm really interested in seeing where book 2 and 3 will lead. Given the short lifespan of the characters, I'm curious as to what will happen next.

  7. I've been on the waiting list for Wither at my library for the longest time. I finally got my copy the other day and I'm hoping I can read it before I have to return it. I've heard really mixed reviews about Wither, which makes me kind of reluctant to pick it up (especially since I'm so tired of trilogies), but your review makes me want to check it out! Thanks!

  8. Wither was amazing. It had this beautiful, quiet voice that transformed into something wonderful. I wasn't much of a fan of the love aspect of this book, but I am certainly looking forward to the sequel just to see what happens :)

  9. I loved her name also. I really loved this book too, looking back I'm not sure why I did so much, but I couldn't stop reading at the time. And some passages stuck in my head; I'll definitely be following this author. :) Great review!

  10. amazingg book best. ihave everread

  11. Sounds dark but somewhat amazing. Awesome review. I think I'll pick this one up and give it a try. I have a feeling I'll need to mentally and emotionally prepare myself though...
    And yes, the name Rhine is actually what caught my eye!! I love original names for MC's. For some reason that alone adds character. :)