Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither (The Chemical Garden #1)
By Lauren DeStefano
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

To Sum It Up: Scientific research efforts have resulted in the eradication of disease in humans. This achievement, however, has come with unforeseen and devastating consequences. Males die at the age of 25. The female life span is even shorter, ending at age 20. Groups called Gatherers routinely kidnap teenage girls and sell them into polygamous marriages with wealthy men in order to produce children. Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery’s life is shattered when she is captured by Gatherers and forced to be one of Linden Ashby’s brides. Although she now finds herself in luxurious surroundings with a husband who actually cares about her, all Rhine can think about is how to escape this life that she never wanted.

Review: Once again, it was a beautiful cover that reeled me in. I’d heard quite a bit of buzz about Wither, but I wasn’t familiar with its plot at all. Right before I began reading it, I perused the jacket blurb. Whoa. Of the handful of dystopian YA novels that I’ve read, this one definitely had the most outrĂ© premise.

My initial shock wore off once I got reading. Wither is actually a very well-written and well-paced novel. It turned out to be a fast read; I kept turning the pages to find out what would happen next. At the same time, though, some aspects of this book's world seemed implausible to me. How is it possible that only North America survived a third world war while the rest of the continents were obliterated? According to the book, it’s because North America possessed “the most advanced technology,” but there’s no further explanation. Then there’s the whole dying at 25/20 thing. They’re just arbitrary numbers when there’s no background information to detail exactly what went wrong with the genetic engineering that wiped out disease but shortened life spans.

I disliked the main character, Rhine. In the beginning, I did feel sorry for her; who wouldn’t? Her incessant complaining about how she needed to escape and return home to her twin brother, Rowan, got to me after a while. In my opinion, she didn’t make much of an effort to get out of there and wasted her energy on moaning about her situation. I think that Rhine’s sister wife, Jenna, would have made a more compelling protagonist. Jenna is shrewd and observant. She’s smart enough to melt into the background, drawing as little attention to herself as possible while taking in everything that goes on around her.

The male characters weren’t much more interesting. I still don’t know what to make of Linden. He appears to be the puppet of his creepy father, Vaughn, but is it possible for Linden to be that ignorant of how his wives ended up with him? As for Gabriel, the servant to whom Rhine grows very close, I don’t see what makes him so special in her eyes. He’s simply there. I couldn’t find any chemistry between those two.

This has been a difficult review to write. As I said before, the writing is really excellent and absorbing. I became invested in the fate of the characters, even though I didn’t like most of them. If the world had been more believable and the characters better developed (and Rhine less whiny!), I would have enjoyed Wither more.

All in All: This is another one of those books that some people will love and others won’t. For me, it’s the quality of the writing that’s convinced me that I should check out the next book in the series, Fever. Plus, I’m a bit curious about what happens to the characters.


  1. Hmm. I've also heard a lot of buzz for this one and have been going back and forth whether I should give it a chance or not. After reading your review, I'm thinking I'm going to stick with "not" haha. It's great that it had good writing and a fast-pace, but I don't know how much more I can take of annoying main characters.. :P And the whole thing about not explaining why only North America was left makes me wary. Great review!

    1. Thanks Linny! I'm completely with you on not being very tolerant of annoying protagonists. I like proactive heroines, and Rhine just didn't cut it for me.


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