Originally posted December 5th, 2010
WITHER (THE CHEMICAL GARDEN, BOOK ONE) by Lauren DeStefano
Published March 22nd, 2011 by Simon & Schuster
I came downstairs this morning to find a package from Simon & Schuster on my coffee table. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but when I opened it to find an ARC of WITHER, I very nearly had a heart attack. I’ve been looking forward to this book ever since I first got wind of it a few months ago, and have been anxiously awaiting its release so that I could go out and purchase a copy. However, now I don’t have to! My empty bank account thanks the lovely people at S&S for that.
Before I even try to put into words how much I loved this book, let’s just take a moment to admire the cover, shall we? Lizzy Bromley did an INCREDIBLE job. The art nerd in me geeked out over this image. There are so many textures in the photo, the coloring is subdued but pops against the pink geometric patterns (I’m not sure if they’re supposed to represent the lines architects use, which would be especially cool), and I, for one, appreciate the symbolism with the bird in the cage. The fashionista in me also just loved the dress the model’s wearing. The geometric pattern continues throughout the book, so every time I turned the page, I couldn’t help but smile. If you want an aesthetically pleasing book, look no further. WITHER takes the cake, hands down.
But cover aside, the story itself is fantastic. Here’s a summary, taken from goodreads:
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 limited time she has left.
That description was initially what drew me in. As a dystopian writer/lover myself, this sounded like something right up my alley. Weird age requirements? Check. A mildly effed-up love triangle? Check. Strange, freaky science stuff? Check. Add to that one of the most gorgeous covers I’ve ever seen, and I knew I had to have it.
A word to the wise: pick up a copy of this book as soon as it comes out (March 22nd, 2011!). Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. And that hasn’t happened to me in a while.
In the past year or two, I’ve had a hard time suspending my disbelief while reading some YA novels. That wasn’t the case with WITHER at all. In fact, I bought the story hook, line, and sinker. Though we’re never given a specific date for when the story takes place, we’re told it’s in the very near future. I’ll throw out 2100 as my guess. The world Rhine lives in operates very much the way ours does, with a few exceptions (for starters, the destruction of NYC boroughs, and Gatherers that snatch girls up to sell to the highest bidder). The idea of Gatherers freaked me out so much, in fact, I actually jumped when a gray van drove past me today. Vaughn’s basement was especially terrifying. Perhaps because we see so little of it, but are left with Rhine’s speculations, or because DeStefano describes it with such haunting detail. You feel trapped inside the house as much as Rhine does, and I applaud Lauren DeStefano for that. As a reader, you feel totally submerged in this bleak, dreary world, and it leaves you stunned for a while after you’re done.
The prose is absolutely phenomenal. The descriptions are spot-on and unique. I found quite a few phrases I wish I’d come up with myself. Things were described in ways you’d never think would be accurate, but were frighteningly astute observations once you actually thought about it. The description of the autumn leaves really stuck with me, and I doubt I’ll ever see them the same way again. I’ll be looking to experience them the same way Rhine did. The sign of a great writer is when they make you rethink things you take for granted. This book really made me appreciate some of the little things in life I never really considered important.
The characters were just as great as the cover and descriptions. The sister wives (not to be confused with that awful, yet addicting, show on TLC) were girls I constantly wanted to hug. Cecily is endearing, despite being a brat, and Jenna’s fiercely loyal beneath a hard exterior. Even minor characters, like the cooks, or the bumbling servant, were charming in their own ways. Vaughn wasn’t the stereotypical villain I was expecting because, underneath all the horrible things he was doing, you knew he was doing it because he loved his son. And poor Linden, who was so utterly clueless about the world and how his wives came to him. I wanted to hate him, but I just couldn’t. He’s almost more of a child than Cecily, and you just want to play mom and tell him everything’s going to be okay. Gabriel, though we don’t see him with Rhine all that often, is charming in his own way. And when he’s in trouble, you understand Rhine’s panic and wish you could help him, too.
But above all, I loved Rhine. She’s a great heroine for a story like this. In some ways, she reminds me of Katniss from THE HUNGER GAMES. She comes from a place where family members have to constantly look out for each other, and a home without parents (Katniss had a mother, but you know what I mean). Throughout her captivity, all she wants is to get home to her brother. And while we never meet Rowan, I like him, and I like their relationship. Rhine does whatever it takes to fool those around her to get what she wants – to get back home. She’s driven, and she knows what she wants, but she has doubts. The fact that she’s human, that sometimes she doubts her resolve, really resonated with me. It made her relatable, and it made you want her to succeed even more. She’s been forced into this terrible situation, but she manages to find pockets of light amongst the darkness. She makes friends. And when it comes down to it, maybe even love. And despite how much she wants to escape, she still wants to protect those around her. She’s strong, but she’s flawed, and I think a lot of readers are going to like her once they can get their hands on this book.
So, with that in mind, I hope you guys will run out and snag a copy come March! You won’t regret it.