Series: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, #1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR
Pub. Date: 2011
Genre: Dystopian YA, Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Designer babies became the norm when the scientists discovered how to make a baby that would have a long lifespan and be immune to most illnesses, including cancer. The children born naturally to these designer babies had a major defect that shortened their lifespans to twenty-five years for males and twenty for females. Rhine Ellery and two other girls were taken and wed to Linden Ashby. Freedom gone, she plans her escape. As she plans, she learns that Linden’s father is trying to find the cure for the genetic virus that shortens their lives, but he will even collect corpses to experiment on. Set in a dystopian Florida, Lauren DeStefano’s Wither explores genetic modification and polygamy
I saw the books of The Chemical Garden trilogy at K-Mart for years, but I didn’t want to read them. After a year or two of not seeing this trilogy on the shelves, I came across it again at a used bookstore. I felt drawn to the books, so I went back to the bookstore and bought the whole trilogy. Wither, the first novel in the trilogy, was surprisingly good.
The first thing I liked about the book was the design of this cover. The graphic with the lines, rectangles, and circles continues not only onto the first page of each chapter but also the copyright and epigraph pages. It reminds me of diagramming sentences, but I still love this part of the design. I like the rest of the cover too, but I was disappointed that the description of Rhine never matched the image of the cover girl.
DeStefano explores a future of a controversial topic. Of course humans played with something they did not fully understand—genetics. While everyone is busy either surviving or trying to find an antidote, I find it unlikely that the man who has control over Rhine’s life is allegedly closer to finding the antidote than anyone else. This did contribute to the fear that his character inspires in others. Since women live only to the ripe old age of twenty and men to twenty-five, this puts women at risk of social injustices happening to them because parents have put greater investment, time-wise, into their boys. Forced marriages and having babies young is a likely outcome of drastically shortened lifespans; I did not expect polygamy to come out of it.
I was less interested in the concept of shortened lifespans as punishment for messing with nature and more interested in forced polygamy. The first few chapters are devoted to the three girls’ forced marriage to Linden Ashby. Because I’ve watched Sister Wives, My Five Wives, and Escaping Polygamy, I was curious at this point to see how the sister wives would get along. The relationships between the wives progressed their development. I was surprised that Rhine and Rose got along well since Rhine was chosen largely because of her similar appearance to Rose, the dying first wife of Linden. Later, the newer wives (Rhine, Jenna and Cecily) grow closer. This bonding makes them rely more on each other than on their husband through their lowest moments.
While the characters were distinct, none of the characters except the girls developed. Linden had moments of learning to move past a loss, but he never developed beyond Rhine’s perception of the situation he is in. Jenna becomes more trusting. Cecily grows up. Rhine learns to make the best of a situation. My only disappointment was that Rhine seemed to forget for awhile that she needed to contact her brother.
Wither is most likely to be loved by fans of dystopian books. It stands out from other dystopian novels because of its focus on genetic modification and the relationships between sister wives.