The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither by Lauren DeStefano is a Winner!

Book Review
Title: The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Released: March 2011
Pages: 368
ISBN-10: 1442409053
ISBN-13: 978-1-4424-0905-7
Stars: 4.0

I am a fortunate recipient of an advance reader’s copy of debut novelist Lauren DeStefano’s The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither, published by Simon & Schuster. Wither is the first piece of this dystopian puzzle and although it is recommended for ages 14+, I was charmed by it and could not put it down. Wither is a refreshing, unique and dazzling story (despite comparisons made to The Handmaid’s Tale), filled with compelling characters that leap off the page. While it does raise a few questions, I chose not to analyze the life out of it and just enjoyed it for the pleasurable fantasy read that it is. I can already completely envision the movie version and don’t think I’m remiss in saying that fans of the Twilight series will undoubtedly enjoy this too.

In the not-too-distant future, Earth has almost been entirely obliterated by a viral plague created through genetic engineering that has wiped out every continent except for North America. In this nightmare, males only live to be 25-years-old and females only live to age 20, raising the questions, “What if you knew when you were going to die?” How would you choose to live your life?

Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is a beautiful, intelligent orphan with hemochromatic eyes (one brown, one blue) who has been kidnapped by “Gatherers” and sold at auction as a bride to a rich governor. She is torn away from the only life she knows in an almost unrecognizable Manhattan where her twin brother Rowan works in a factory to support them while it’s her job to keep their ramshackle home safe from looters.

Rhine isn’t a special victim, but rather the norm, as there are few things left for young women in this new world to do but be sold into slavery to propagate the species. Only the beautiful are chosen as brides while the others become prostitutes or are murdered.

Rhine finds herself living in a picturesque but sinister Florida mansion – decorated with holograms and steeped in illusion – and wedded to a naïve, young Governor Linden Ashby. Linden, a would-be architect, is mourning the impending death of his true love and first wife, Rose, while being completely controlled by his creepy, geneticist father, Housemaster Vaughn (a first generation who didn’t succumb to the plague), who lets everyone think he’s working on an antidote for the fatal disease.

Rhine has two sister wives: (polygamy is also not unusual in this new world) 13-year-old Cecilia, a bratty redhead who was born in an orphanage and never knew her parents – so has little problem adjusting to life as a rich man’s child bride – and 18-year-old Jenna, a sad, introverted brunette whose sisters are murdered in the same van she was taken away in when she was captured.

Rhine befriends Rose, who soon dies, and whose body is mysteriously transported to the basement, never to be given a proper funeral. Cecilia takes her place as Linden’s new lover, and before long becomes pregnant with his child. Jenna’s relationship with her husband is only sexual as she refuses to give him her heart, while Rhine rejects the consummation of her marriage and instead befriends a kind and empathetic servant named Gabriel whom she comes to trust. (It was a little hard to believe that she would have been able to continuously deny her husband who clearly had his way with the others.)

On the outside, Rhine’s world is one of glamour, parties, growing friendships with her sister wives and an orange grove utopia, while the reality is one of ugly secrets, danger and the dance of the Grim Reaper.

This first person narrative is thoughtfully conveyed in Rhine’s voice, with moral dilemmas always close to the surface, and her relationships with the other characters are as well developed and realistic as they can be in a science fiction setting. We know Rhine is biding her time by pretending to want to be Linden’s first wife until she can figure out a way to escape. We also know that there’s something inherently evil going on in the basement of the mansion and that although Vaughn is supposedly carrying out DNA experiments to find a cure, nothing is what it appears to be. We also know by the end of this page turner that we’re not going to get to know what happens to Rhine and Gabriel until the next edition of the trilogy. By then, you will be completely sucked into the story and will have to read the next book! And believe me, I will.

Bravo Lauren DeStefano! You’re going to have a very successful writing career.

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10 thoughts on “The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither by Lauren DeStefano is a Winner!

  1. Before I read this book, I definitely heard comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale. But, like you, I didn’t want to analyze the heck out of it, so I just enjoyed it. I love how it’s so unique, with a new premise, which is something rare in YA. I can’t wait to read Fever!

    1. Hi Carrie!

      Thanks for stopping by. I am reading Fever right now and will be reviewing it soon. I know it’s part of a trilogy so like most trilogies, the middle book is not always the most exciting one but it serves an important purpose. I like Wither better than Fever, but I am really enjoying it too and can’t wait for the third book to see how the trilogy ends! Lauren DeStefano is a terrific writer and I’ll be a fan of her work for life!

      1. It will be interesting to see both how the trilogy ends as well as what DeStefano writes next. The Chemical Garden Trilogy will hopefully be a hard act to follow.

      2. I can’t wait to find out how it all ends. I think that The Chemical Garden Trilogy might very well be a hard act to follow for DeStefano, but I think she’s just starting to show the world what she can do! I hope they make a movie(s) out of this trilogy too!

      3. I’m reluctant for them to make a movie, since they always seem to ruin it. But they could have a success here on their hands if they get a director who stays true to the story.

      4. That’s true and I think it’s important to have only one director for all movies based on a trilogy and not different ones. The Twilight movies suffer because of having different directors, I think. Not to mention the inconsistencies with Bella’s wigs!! Made me cringe!

      5. Exactly! If they’re going to make the trilogy, they better have just ONE director who sticks with the storyline. I can’t really comment on the inconsistencies of the Twilight movies since I’m definitely not a fan, but I know what you mean.

      6. I actually am a fan of the Twilight books and I really enjoyed the first movie but as a series, they’re just too inconsistent in look, atmosphere, style, etc. because a different director was used every time. That drives me nuts!

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