Title: The Chemical Garden Trilogy #1: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Date of Publication: March 22, 2011
Formats Available: Hardcover, Paperback, E-Book
Synopsis: In a world where females only live to the age of twenty and males only live until twenty-five young girls are constantly kidnapped to be married off to rich young men. The girls not forced into polygamous marriages are killed or sold into prostitution. Sixteen year old Rhine Ellery is one of the abducted girls, forced to marry a rich young man, Linden. Despite the luxury Rhine and the other wives experience Rhine wants nothing more than to escape back to her twin brother Rowan. Escaping proves to be difficult with Linden’s strange father watching the girls every move. Rhine’s only hope for freedom lies with a servant, Gabriel, which she finds herself growing more and more attracted to.
When I first heard about the Chemical Garden Trilogy I was intrigued, the story sounded terrifying, yet fascinating; I knew I couldn’t pass this book up. The first few pages of Wither pulled me into the story, which I was soon completely engrossed in. Wonderful, yet shocking, Lauren DeStefano’s first novel is a breath of fresh air in the young adult genre.
DeStefano’s writing is haunting and poetic, perfectly suited the cruel world Rhine lives in. The delicate issues of teen marriage and pregnancy are shocking but tastefully addressed. The characters are all complexly written, each of them possessing a dark side and different survival instincts. One of my favorite characters had to be Linden, while I originally thought he would be a villainous character we soon learn that he is nothing more than a pawn in his father’s appalling world. Sad, vulnerable, and hugely naive I couldn’t help but root for Linden just a little.
Rhine was an exceptional protagonist, her world is horrific, full of death and disease, yet instead of giving in and accepting her fate she fights against her abductors, her dream of finding her brother keeping her going. The interaction between Linden’s other wives, Jenna and Cecily, and Rhine was one of my favorite aspects of the book. Each of them comes from a different background and a different horror story, yet they bond together making their situation more bearable for all of them as they struggle for survival.
Beautifully haunting Wither is the beginning of a very promising series, while the first books in series are generally slow, full of set up and character introduction, Wither was the perfect blend of world building and action. Recommended for ages 16+ Wither is a creepy yet wonderful first novel.