Skip to main content

Wither: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 1

Review

Wither: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 1

Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery lives a bleak existence. Ever since the horrific third world war that only the Unites States endured, most people struggle just to survive. And survival doesn't last long. Due to some genetic experiments gone wrong, death comes early: age 25 for guys and 20 for women. About 70 years ago, scientists figured out how to completely eliminate cancer and other diseases, and that first generation has lived long and healthy lives. But their children and their grandchildren are born with an expiration date. As those first-generation scientists toil to find a cure, young orphans crowd the streets without a future.

Rhine knows she only has four more years left to live, but she is relatively content living with her twin brother in what is left of Manhattan. They find work where they can, and then barricade themselves in their dead parents' home at night, taking turns keeping watch against both dangerous burglars and orphans desperate for food. But then the worst happens: Rhine is kidnapped by the Gatherers. Gatherers collect teenage girls and sell them off to wealthy families to produce experimental children in hopes of finding a cure. Rhine and two others --- 13-year-old Cecily and 18-year-old Jenna --- are chosen and forced to marry 21-year-old Linden Ashby, who lives in a Florida mansion with his scientist father.

As the first stages of this nightmare begin to clear, Rhine finds herself in luxurious settings, with her own private room, clothes designed just for her, and anything she wants to eat --- all surrounded by beautiful gardens and a huge inescapable fence. While her husband seems kind, if a bit clueless, and she begins to develop friendships with her sister wives, Rhine cannot accept her new role. Refusing to give up her freedom, she begins to search for a way to escape. She knows she must be very careful and trust no one, or she could lose what little independence she has gained and every chance to break free. But she can't help growing closer to the servant Gabriel. Dare she trust him to help her, or even ask him to join her in her escape? Either way, Rhine has to work fast; time is running out, and something sinister is occurring deep in the basement of the mansion --- something evil at the hands of Linden's scientist father.

This is Lauren DeStefano's first novel, and she proves over and over that she is a true professional writer with many talents. The story grabs hold of readers from the first page, dragging them deep into Rhine's terrifying world. DeStefano takes two human fears --- dying (especially at a young age) and loss of freedom --- and weaves them into a compelling and deeply emotional journey. She successfully uses symbolism and flashbacks to develop the intense storyline and has a wonderful gift of language that gives the story beauty and charm. She handles the challenging situation of forced marriage and subsequent relations with grace, tact and discretion, keeping the rating well within the PG range. But she doesn't skimp on romance, as Rhine gently falls in love with Gabriel.

WITHER is daring, disturbing and powerful. Fans will be waiting impatiently for the next two installments of this extraordinary trilogy.

Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on March 22, 2011

Wither: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 1
by Lauren DeStefano

  • Publication Date: December 6, 2011
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult 14+
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1442409061
  • ISBN-13: 9781442409064