Release Date: March 22, 2011
Published by: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Pages: 356, Hardcover
Source: Publisher, in exchange for an honest review
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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
Set in the future, when our version of life is a haunting, repressed memory and hope, Wither, the first of The Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren DeStefano opens us up to more then just a world unlike our own.
In Wither, we are introduced to a small circle of characters who all have their leading role in the story. As much as this story centers around Rhine, our main female character, it also centers around the epidemic that is the ultimate reason why young girls are forced into prostitution and marriages and why young women are dying at the young age of 20 and young men at 25.
Rhine is only one of three current wives to Linden, a young man from a prominent family and plenty of money. Jenna, the eldest and nearest the end, and Cecily, a eager-to-please thirteen year old are the two other chosen young women to live as Linden's wives. Despite the situation, all three girls come to rely on each other in one way or another and bonds are formed. The feeling of sisterhood shows when it counts most even if it means putting on a false smile to preserve what is left of the innocence of a young bride or admitting that there is no cure to save them. Each girl's place in the threesome becomes defined and they act in those roles accordingly and willingly.
The loyalty and makeshift-family doesn't end with the sister wives. It expands, even if only selectively and thinly, to the houseful of knowing, yet trapped (read: trapped within the virus and under the thumb of a very desperate House Master Vaughn, father to Linden,) kitchen staff, maids, and servants who help take care of the wives and house grounds. Of course some are closer than others and an unlikely ally is found within Gabriel, the servant who Rhine wakes up to and looks forward to seeing daily.
Despite knowing eyes and knowing better, Rhine finds herself enamored with Gabriel and he with her. The situation puts a new spin on the popular YA-love-triangle. Neither are free to explore their friendship, their loyalty to each other is put to the test, and they both give each other what they are missing being victims to a virus and a household which slowly sucks the life out of your heart and hopes. Hope flourishes between the two, even if it may result in their premature deaths. Neither can let go when the ultimate question is presented.
The strength and vulnerability of Rhine is one of the facets that contribute to Wither being such a real read. Our main character isn't perfect, even though she is strikingly beautiful and unique. Her emotions and actions falter, providing us with another aspect to this story, human emotion and the downfalls of having them. Even when she internally fights the actions and emotions of being married, and is a self-proclaimed bad wife, she still is special and adequate in her own way to the only person who can provide her with the minor salvation she needs to find her opening for escape. What Rhine gives Linden eventually proves to be more then just the lingering memory of his dead love and the more apparent that becomes for Rhine the easier it is to settle into the life of being first wife.
Linden's actions and revelations later in the book prove many things about him, things that change the truths about everything that truly matters. None of those truths though are enough to give Rhine the contentment she needs to let go of her plan of getting out before she is given no choice but to bear a child of Linden's and the stirring emotions she feels when she is around him further cloud her vision. Beyond Gabriel's hope, the thought of her twin, alone and worried, drives Rhine to keep a clear mind to push forward not letting go of what she promised herself.
Dark themes revolving around death and sex make this a Young Adult read something for the more mature. We aren't given quick glimpses but whole scenes as we travel down the halls, into the kitchen, through the basement and gardens. The bedrooms aren't black holes but a place where intimacy and heavy conversations take place.
Wither is brilliantly painted by Lauren DeStefano and easily sits in the top tier of my favorite books. I also have to give kudos to Lauren for her ability to tie up the book without a maddening cliff-hanger yet keeping the readers yearning for more. Book number two of The Chemical Garden trilogy couldn't come fast enough.
Re-Read Factor: 5
On The Cover: I find the cover simply gorgeous. Everything about it seems symbolic of something related to the book and just right.