[Review] Wither - Lauren DeStefano

Title of Book: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Chemical Garden #1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Publication Year: 2011
Language: English
Format: Paperback
Pages: 358

In the not-too-distant future, genetic engineering has turned every newborn into a ticking time bomb: Males die at age twenty-five, and females die at age twenty. While scientists seek a miracle antidote, young girls are routinely kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. When sixteen-year-old Rhine is taken, she enters a world of wealth and privilege that both entices and terrifies her. She has everything she ever wanted - except freedom.
Soon it becomes clear that not everyone at her new husband's home is how they appear. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to escape... before her time runs out.

Wither is a dystopian young adult novel. It follows a girl named Rhine, who lives in a world where males die at the age of twenty-five and females die at the age of twenty. It started out when in the future, scientists manage to find the cure to cancer and other diseases. They genetically engineered the DNA so human’s immune system is boosted to some levels that diseases are virtually wiped out. The first generation successfully born healthy without any diseases. The problem arises when they have their own children. Somehow, there’s a glitch in their DNA that the children of the first generation die at the age of twenty and twenty-five. Basically in this book’s dystopian world, the human race is dying. To prevent this, the rich and privilege kidnap young girls and marry them into polygamous marriage in a desperate attempt for prolonging human’s lifespan. On the other hand, scientists are on their way to find a cure for whatever DNA glitch that’s happening to them.

At the beginning of this book, Rhine was kidnapped by a gatherer and sold into a rich family. She found herself trapped in a marriage to a boy named Linden. The first wife, who is also Linden’s first love is dying. Although Linden’s father, Housemaster Vaughn is a scientist, there’s no sign that he’s near to finding the cure. Besides Rhine, Linden is also married to two other girls, Jenna and Cecily. While these two are accepting the life that they have as Linden’s brides, Rhine is determined to run away and go back home to her twin brother.

This book is Lauren DeStefano’s debut novel. It is the first book in the Chemical Garden trilogy. It came out back when dystopian YA was all the rage especially because of Hunger Games. At the time, I thought dystopian YA became saturated so I decided to hold off reading this trilogy for a while. Years later and I finally read it.

I find the premise of this book intriguing. Although child marriage is inappropriate, in a world where you know exactly when you will die, unfortunately it’s a necessary thing to do to preserve human race. The fact that they choose the natural way of conceiving children instead of artificial one (to avoid child marriage) does make sense. Considering the first generation who are conceived artificially are the one causing the problem of the next generation. 

My problem with most young adult books is the tropes. For example the main protagonist is always the chosen one. Though it’s subtle in the first book because the only thing that makes her special is her hetero chromatic eyes (for now). There is a big chance that somehow she holds the key in a big scheme of things. But as the chosen one, she is supposed to be portrayed as the strong, smart and kind one. However, some of her decisions are not considered as smart. For one thing, the reason she was kidnapped to be sold as a bride is because she responded to a suspicious ad seeking for young girls to volunteer in an experiment. As a girl who has been trying to avoid getting kidnapped and has such a protective twin brother, she sure was careless for answering that ad. I also don’t really understand her desire to escape the mansion. Even though it’s a superficial life, it is a much better quality of life compared to the one she had with her twin brother. Perhaps it’s because of her strong bond with her twin brother or how manipulative the housemaster actually is. Bottom line, I still couldn’t relate to this aspect.

One thing that I like from this book is Rhine’s relationship with her sister wives. I admit, I hate the term sister wives but that’s what her relationship with Jenna and Cecily. The dynamic between the three as sisters feels realistic. Jenna is the oldest, the quiet but wise one. While Cecily is the youngest and the childish one. There are times when they bicker to one another like sisters, but there are times when they support one another. Girls supporting one another is one thing that I’d like to see more in young adult book.

I also appreciate that there’s no apparent triangle love trope in this book. Though there are two guys in Rhine’s life, Rhine has already made it clear that Linden is not even considered as a potential love interest. Even Rhine’s relationship with the other guy, Gabriel the servant, is underplayed in this book which is a good thing for me. Some people might prefer the love drama, not me though.

Overall, I don’t think there’s something special and remarkable that separates this book from other dystopian young adult books. If you’re already burnt out after reading many dystopian or apocalyptic young adult, then I don’t recommend this book. If you’re in a sudden need to read a dystopian young adult book and maybe you’ve read other books in the same genre, then you might want to try picking this book up.


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