Title: Wither (The Chemical Garden #1)
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Date Published: 06 December 2011
Genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction
Paperback: 384 pages
Source: Personal copy
Rating: 2/5 stars
I’m not a fan of dystopian literature but I did pick up a few of such books and I still have at least two more (first in a series) in my to-read list. I just think the cover of Wither is so gorgeous so I read it first.
The first few pages made me gasp – Rhine was kidnapped by the “gatherers” to be sold off as a bride to a wealthy husband looking for a mate to bear his children, DeStefano’s narrative is vividly haunting:
“I feel too alive in this row of moribund girls with their eyes half open. I sense that their hearts are barely beating, while mine pounds in my chest. After so much time spent riding in the darkness of the truck, we have all fused together. We are one nameless thing sharing this strange hell. I do not want to stand out. I do not want to stand out. But it doesn’t matter. Someone has noticed me.”
– passage from when the girls were made to line-up as Lindel, the groom-to-be chooses his brides.
There are a lot of holes in DeStefano’s world building. I am not convinced that there are no other humans left in the world other than the first generation (perfect humans created by genetic science) and their children, the second generation. The second generation suffers from a virus and they die young, males die at the age of 25 and females at the age of 20. (Statistically speaking, women live longer lives than men in the real world) And I am sure that there are couples who would want to have their own imperfect children with their traits than genetically modified ones, I for one, would and therefore the generation prior to the first generation would still have normal offsprings; although I do understand that there are couples, if given the chance to, may want their children to have certain traits.
Realistically, genetic science is not cheap - the estimated cost of cloning is $2 Million*, even at a fraction of that cost, it is not believable that even those who cannot afford to pay for their basic necessities would be able to have genetically modified children. I could go on but I set these thoughts and more about this new world aside and read the story within the parameters that the author has set.
Rhine was filled with anger as her life was stolen from her and she knows she must escape somehow but she can only have that opportunity if she becomes first wife and so day by day she tries to win the affection of Linden, and as she does, her inner struggles grow, she discovers that Linden didn't know about the kidnapping or about what happened to the remaining girls in the van and I would like to think that somehow she has started to feel something for him, enjoying his kisses, his attention, becoming jealous when he danced with another blonde - and here, inside this beautiful cage, she can have anything that she wanted - the world on a string. But outside, there is freedom, and there is Rowan, her twin brother. I would have liked it if Rhine didn't fall in love with Gabriel, and for her to realize that she loves Linden and yet, she still leaves him.
I do love the mansion, the gardens, the parties and I particularly love it when Deirdre, Rhine’s handmaid would make dresses for her and make her up: “For me, Deirdre has constructed a soft orange frock that she says will make me look dazzling in the evening light. She leaves my hair untouched, long and wavy and many shades of blond.”
DeStefano is deft at characterization, I particularly liked how she revealed just how sinister Housemaster Vaughn was: the way that he looks, his cold skin, how the servants are afraid of him, what Deirdre said about Rose’s new born daughter, what Rhine saw herself in the basement and what he did to Jenna. He loves his son but I think his real reason for finding him brides to get grandchildren and looking for an antidote is to achieve virtual immortality through his children and their children. As revealed by Rhine, soon, he will replace his son with his grandchild, which shows why he doesn’t care for granddaughters (because they do not carry the family name), and this cycle will go on until he is satisfied that there will be a son/grandson who would continue the family line.
I found the story engaging and I love DeStefano's way with words, I would recommend it to a fan of dystopian literature.
*Herper, Matthew. “Cloning’s High Cost”. Forbes.com. 29 December 2011. <http://www.forbes.com/2001/11/26/1126cloning.html>