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Wither by Lauren DeStefano

August 21, 2011

A Handmaid’s Tale for a new generation…

Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery has only four years left to live when she is kidnapped by the Gatherers and forced into a polygamous marriage. Now she has one purpose: to escape, find her twin brother, and go home – before her time runs out forever.

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 she trusts, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.


Wither is the first book in Lauren DeStefano’s new Chemical Garden series. Yet another dystopian YA novel, you might say, and in this case you’re probably right to some degree. I’d already heard a lot of buzz both online and at work about Wither so I couldn’t wait to read it.

Wither takes place some decades into the near future, in a world where genetic modification has had some rather dire consequences. Most human diseases have been eradicated, producing a first generation of seemingly immortal humans. However, the offspring from this first generation are not so lucky. The men start dying at the age of 25, and women at the age of 20. North America is the only surviving land on the whole of the planet, and life is now dramatically different.

The most interesting thing of all about this novel is the way it deals with polygamy, where the men have more than one wife. This is to ensure that the human species carries on reproducing and creating new life, so that they can try to find some kind of cure for the mysterious disease that is killing everyone so early in life. It’s an interesting concept, and not one I’ve come across in YA fiction yet. The bond between Rhine and her sister-wives is perhaps the most touching of all. The fact that they all ultimately know they will die before the age of twenty is heartbreaking to read, as they realise that they will not always be there for each other. Rhine’s sister-wives are Cecily, the youngest of the three, who feels that she was born to become a wife and produce offspring and is more than happy to do so, the one thing she cannot accept is that there will be no cure for them all. Jenna is the oldest of the three and is certainly the quietest. She knows she has very little time left, being at the age of 19, she also knows she will die here, in this house where no one really knows who she is. Rhine certainly feels affection for both of these girls, more so Jenna than Cecily, because they can relate to each other much more easily, through their shared hope of escape.

Their husband Linden is also an intriguing character. He has no idea that these girls were kidnapped by his father specifically to be his wives. He believes they are willing, and that they have no other family. Linden is just as sheltered as his new wives – he has no concept of the outside world, or the realities of his life. In truth, he is living in a dream world, and if it ever shatters I’m not sure he would ever survive. He forms some kind of bond with Rhine, in the way that they talk to each other. Linden misses his previous wife who has just passed away, and who he was deeply in love with. With Rhine, he doesn’t perform his husbandly duties; instead he chooses to confide in her. This puts Rhine in a rather awkward position as the idea of escape still haunts her mind. She feels sorry for Linden and doesn’t want to hurt him or betray his trust. But getting back to her twin brother and her old life is much more important for her.

For Rhine, getting back to her brother is the most important thing in her life, and nothing will ever change that. Her new-found love for the cook Gabriel has helped give her the strength to know what she must do. She is a strong-willed character and I instantly liked her. You can’t help but feel for her as she must taken on the role of Linden’s wife, and do whatever is required of her.

I felt that DeStefano certainly dealt with the issue of polygamy really well, particularly surrounding the issue of sex. It doesn’t turn the novel into something parents wouldn’t want their kids to be reading. In this world, sex is a duty; it’s almost a mechanical act simply to produce a child, to save their population. The relationships between all four of them were dealt with exceedingly well, and in the process she has created some very intriguing characters that certainly make you want to read on.

The flaws of course have to be in the world-building, or lack of. She could have done a lot more with it, and the idea of almost everything being a hologram didn’t really inspire any kind of emotion in me. It just became boring. The fact that North Americais the only place surviving on the planet also seems a little odd, and we aren’t given much of an explanation for this. DeStefano’s strengths as a writer definitely lie in writing good characters, I just hope she can work on bring this world to life in book two of the series.

There are some really great moments in this novel, but it is not without its flaws. It didn’t quite have the impact on me I wanted it to have. It isn’t the best apocalyptic or dystopian novel I’ve ever read, but it is different and the introduction of polygamy is a very interesting idea indeed. I will definitely pick up book two, as the end of Wither left it open to many possibilities. I’m excited to see what will happen next.

Wither is out now published by Harper Voyager. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy!


5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2011 02:11

    I thought the first line of the book blurb was interesting, although that’s mostly because I just started reading The Handmaid’s Tale earlier today, weird book.

    I don’t really mind dystopian books that much, although there do seem to be an awful lot of them, especially in YA as you mentioned. Some of them are very good (I loved the Hunger Games trilogy) and some aren’t quite as good (I didn’t care for The Windup Girl, which isn’t YA, but it’s still dystopian). I know it’s a very popular genre right now, but I think I’d like to see what the next step in literature is going to be.

    • August 22, 2011 09:43

      How bizarre you started reading The Handmaid’s Tale today! I have to admit I haven’t read it yet. I don’t mind the dystopian genre either but there are a few too many of them now, and some of them just aren’t that great. See, I didn’t like The Hunger Game…only read the first book but I didn’t really see where else it could go from there without repeating the whole concept again and again. I just found it ‘okay’. But I seem to be of a minority here! I’d also like to see what’s going to become the next big thing…! I wonder what it will be.

  2. angels permalink
    September 4, 2011 04:41

    i read the book and at first it wasnt interesting at all, it was a little boring but otherwise fine. it was finally getting interested when she met Rose and when she got married to Linden. it’s a must-read book, very interesting and will leave you wanting more!


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  2. Rowena Reviews » Blog Archive » Wither by Lauren Destefano

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