YA Friday: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Friday, September 23, 2011

Title: Wither
Series: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, #1
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Genre:YA, dystopian, fantasy
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2011
Source: Library
Read for: Fun

In a frenzy of genetic manipulation, trying to keep the world's population healthy, a fatal mistake is made. Now males die at the age of 25 and females die at the age of 20. Some are hopeless, thinking it is the fate of the human race to die out. Some are frantically experimenting and researching, hoping to find a cure. And some are joining polygamous marriages and reproducing before they wither (heh - get it). Rhine belongs to the latter camp, kidnapped against her will and now married to Linden with two other girls, Cecily and Jenna. Rhine lives a life of luxury with Linden - but is it worth the loss of her freedom?

Okay, two things about this book. First of all - lovely writing, intriguing characters, absorbing plot. Second of all - totally unrealistic. This is why I have this pegged as fantasy. Because there is no way that the disease would automatically affect people with age, the world is mysterious and vague (granted, most of the story takes place in Linden's mansion, in which there is little to no contact with the outside world). This isn't a book that you can think too hard about as far as world development and global repercussions go. My other issue about realistic-ness has to do with Rhine's standing in the house, and it involves a spoiler, so highlight over if you'd like to read it - I don't know how she would get to be the first wife if she didn't consummate her marriage with Linden. I understand why she didn't, and I'm glad she didn't - but I just don't understand how he would perceive her as his favorite and spend every night snuggling up to her with nothing ever progressing beyond that. 

However, if you can get past the cerebral issues, it is quite enjoyable, even alluring. First of all, Lauren DeStefano's writing is every bit as dazzling as that cover. Unfortunately, I returned the book without copying down any passages - none stood out to me in particular. However, the book as a whole was almost visual in its descriptions. Rhine moves from a bleak, desperate world into a world of color and privilege, with special gowns and makeup designed exclusively for her to allure her husband and countless gardens and pavilions surrounding Linden's home. The characters are also described exceptionally well - I have vivid mental images of all of them (Cecily is a young, short Amy Adams, in case you were wondering). I honestly think the reason I was so absorbed in this book was the magic of the writing, because honestly, there isn't always much going on. There is mystery and tension, but the book is about a group of girls that live in a house and don't leave. Obviously more than that happens, but with that premise we aren't always getting tons of action. Fortunately, DeStefano's writing prevents that from becoming a problem.

I also enjoyed the characters, for the most part. I loved Rhine's relationships with her sister-wives and the friendships that developed between them. I've always wondered how women in polygamous families could stand each other, but the tentative friendships that blossom into sisterhood are one of the most compelling aspects of this book. Rhine not only becomes close with her sister wives, she also has a special friendship with Linden's first wife, Rose, who at twenty, doesn't stick around for long. She also has a remarkable friendship with Linden, her naive but sweet husband. In fact, I grew to like Linden quite a bit. Because of his sheltered life, he doesn't always understand or perceive the unethical aspects of his lifestyle; however, he does everything he can to make his wives comfortable and happy. He is suffering from loss just like every other character in the book (grief is a difficult emotion to avoid when everyone dies in their twenties). I also liked Gabriel, but I noticed a slightly annoying trend that has also appeared in similar books. Whenever I read a YA book written in first person, for some reason I never get a clear picture of the love interest. It's as if they are blacked out by the narrator's emotions - I know just how that person feels about the character, but I feel like I can't get a clear picture of what the character is actually like. I liked Gabriel, don't get me wrong - but I felt as if I knew much more about Linden. Gabriel was still a mystery to me - even though I knew he liked boats and had lived his life in the mansion, I felt like I didn't know much about him. I'm hoping that his character is fleshed out more as the trilogy progresses.

So, what's the verdict? While this book was imperfect, I still truly enjoyed it. It was compelling and absorbing and swept me up into the story, allowing me to focus on little else until the book was finished. If you are willing to look past the things that don't quite mesh together, reading Wither should be a great experience for you.

4 stars

Warnings: Un-gory violence, marital sex (behind closed doors)


  1. I just bought this book, which is so unusual for me because I'm such a library girl. (I found it at a bargain store for $3.99-can you believe that?) It has a beautiful cover and I really want to read it. The thing is...now that I've bought it, I tend to push it behind my review books and library books, which is sometimes sort of unfortunate. I'll get to it soon hopefully. I'm glad to see that you enjoyed it. That makes me feel hopeful that I'll like it since we tend to have similar tastes.


  2. That is a good deal! I wish we had more half price/bargain/used bookstores around here. I often do that with books I've purchased as well - once I safely own it, it doesn't have the same immediacy as the books I have on hold or the books from NetGalley. Hope you do enjoy it once you get the chance!

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed this! I have to admit that I'll probably not pick it up, because I agree that everyone suddenly not being able to reproduce at such a young age is kind of unrealistic. Who knows, maybe someday I'll pick it up but otherwise, ehh. I'll keep an eye out for something different by this author.

  4. I can generally let a few things slip, especially if I go in with the mindset that I'll have to do so. For the most part, I like the sound of Wither and will, I'm sure, read it at some point!

  5. @Sarah - Yes, I think it depends on the reader whether or not you will be bothered by that little incongruity, and you know what will bug you, so it might be a good one to pass over. I'll be interested to see what else she ends up writing!

    @Erin - I hope you'll like it! It is definitely absorbing and a good escapist read.


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