Wither (The Chemical Garden #1)

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4.1
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A book that stands out
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
3.0
Writing Style
 
5.0
Okay, y'all. I have had this books sitting unread on my shelves for freaking years, and that was such a mistake. I'm not sure why I was hesitant to read it, but I'm glad I finally did. Wither is different than a lot of the books you'll find on the shelves these days. I will say there are some areas where this novel fell flat, but the writing and the premise had me flying through this book in one sitting.

Guys let's just talk about some of the awesome ideas in this novel. It takes place mostly in a dystopian Florida (my home state, what what) with flashbacks to dystopian New York (my future state, what what). What made this especially interesting, though, is that New York is this, run-down, dilapidated state, and Florida is thriving. It's the opposite of what you might expect, and that's just really cool to me. And then there's the phrase "sold as a bride." It's super creepy to think about and that's what makes it such a fascinating thing to read about. Oh, and that whole thing where basically everyone knows exactly when and how they're going to die. All of this is actually quite chilling. It's gritty and sucked me right in.

However, I feel like this story was still lacking some of the darkness and creepiness it promised. I feel like not enough happened. A lot of the story was merely Rhine thinking about how much she wanted to escape and how much she hates the mansion. There were a few parts when she took action, but she mostly just let things happen to her, rather than making them happen. Like, I wish Rhine would have dug deeper to find out some secrets of the mansion and Vaughn, her father-in-law that gives everyone the heebie-jeebies. I mean, we find out some pretty crappy things he has done, but I just wanted more. He's the villain of the book, but I just wasn't appalled by him enough.

Now, about the other characters. The thing is, I don't really have strong feelings about any of them, which makes me sad because I am a character-focused reader. Rhine is a good narrator, and I was rooting for her, but I wouldn't say I necessarily like her. If anything, I was more a fan of the secondary characters, namely Linden and Cecily. Linden was just so sweet and clueless, it was hard not to love him. And Cecily was a lot of fun. I loved watching the way she developed over the course of the novel.

As far as the romance goes, it was nothing spectacular. It could have been, but Gabriel, the main love interest, is basically absent for half the novel. The chemistry that was building between them kind of fizzled, in my opinion.

My absolute favorite part of book is the writing style. DeStefano has such a beautiful way with words. Some of her descriptions sent a pang to my heart because they were so good. I think her writing is the primary thing that sets this book apart and makes it feel different from the things I usually read. Even if this book had nothing else going for it, I would have still read it until the very end because I was so enthralled by the writing.

I know there seems to be a lot of negativity in this review, but I really had a hard time putting this book down. I immediately picked up the second book when I was finished with it. I will probably be recommending this to my friends because I think it is extremely interesting. I don't think you'll regret reading this.
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Wither
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
This was a surprising read. I would never have picked it up on my own, but I’m glad to have read it. Wither is engaging and unique, and though it isn’t earth-shattering by any means, I liked it all the same.

I’ve read only a smattering of dystopian novels, and the setup for this seemed to be quite nearly the same as my other experiences. After World War Three, North America (The United States, to be specific), was the only landmass left populated. Science has made tremendous headway in spite of the world’s near-annhiliation, but it’s taken a bad turn and is now seen by most as ‘evil’. The heroine is affected by the ‘evil science’, and is on a quest to make her life count in spite of her problems. Really, DeStefano doesn’t bring anything new to the table here.

It’s all in the presentation.

Rhine’s character is wonderfully fresh and dynamic; her responses to the situation she’s placed in make sense. Her reaction to the idyllic life her husband presents her is reasonable, her sister wives are interesting and real.

And the author can write like nobody’s business. In YA, it’s the norm for an author to tell a good story, and this is no exception. But it’s less common for a good story to be told in brilliant prose. DeStefano is an excellent writer, undeniably.

The author seems determined to have only one ‘bad guy’. She makes great effort to clear Linden (the husband) of all guilt, and even the silly red-headed sister wife is made to look noble in the end. All the blame is laid at the feet of Linden’s dad, one of those ‘evil scientists’ who performs vivisection in order to discover the reason for mankind’s issues. Never mind the fact that he wants the best for his son. I think it’s very telling that the book’s ‘bad guy’ is a scientist.

And then there’s the age thing. Rhine’s domestic (AKA slave), is eight or nine years old, but she’s some kind of brilliant and unparalleled seamstress. Yes, I understand that the normal lifespan has dropped drastically, but I highly doubt an eight year old girl has the attention span to sit still long enough to a) learn how to sew; and b)sew endlessly, twelve hours a day. My sister is eleven, and she couldn’t do it. So really, the shortened lifespan is entirely unrealistic, and it annoyed me to no end.

A fantastic book. This is why I read YA—for those authors who really try and give more than a humdrum story. Recommended to anyone who loves the genre.
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Wither
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
If a book can command my attention in the first few pages, then it has my heart. To be completely immersed in a story from the very beginning is truly a treat. As soon as I opened Wither, met Rhine and found out what had befallen her, there was no turning back. I read this book with a ravenous appetite, pausing only briefly to jot notes about what I wanted to share with you. Yes, that is how amazing this book is.

Rhine became my hero from the first moment that I met her. Her character is so brave in the face of danger, in the face of adversity. Even when she wasn't sure that she would ever be able to find her brother again she was hopeful. I loved how she simply refused to roll over and accept her fate. I am truly a fan of strong female characters, and Rhine fits that description more than anyone. Her story is heartbreaking, but she is able to stay her same vivid self throughout the entire ordeal. I was enraptured.

The world that Lauren DeStefano builds for the reader is truly beautiful and terrible at the same time. As I mentioned above, the reader is instantly immersed in the world of these characters. It is fascinating to watch these characters as they move through the story. Rhine and her sister wives are young women, and yet they are thrown into the lives of much older women. Watching their plight was so difficult, but I could see the glimmer of hope underneath. Their story pulled me in and kept me captivated the entire time. Add in some exquisite writing, and you have a book that I truly fell in love with.

Since this book is not due out for a while, I won't write anything that might spoil the journey for you. I will say though that the ending to this book was simply perfect to me. After reading so many books lately whose endings were disappointing, reading Wither was truly a treat from cover to cover.
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Very dark, but nice read
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
3.0
Writing Style
 
5.0
I know that we really shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but in this case the cover of this book is a great representation of the story within. Eerie, sad and beautiful, this story really sticks with you. It is a tale filled with beautiful places, dazzling parties and sinister purposes that hold the reader until the last page and leave them with both a feeling of outstanding exhilaration and intense foreboding. I put off reading this book for so long because I just wasn't sure that it would be able to live up to my expectations. In the end it mostly did, but a part of me feels like the darkness of this book really weighed it down too much. However, that same darkness is what made it so enjoyable. Perhaps those conflicting feelings are what makes Wither so special.

LIKES:

Beautiful storytelling and world-building: DeStefano's writing has a way of bringing the reader into the story and making them feel totally encapsulated in her world. The imagery used and the history/memory building is really fantastic. I just kept wanting to know more and more about Rhine and her little world and it was so much fun learning about it.
Thought-provoking: This point really goes along with the world-building. DeStefano's picture of this horrifying new America in the not-to-distant future really makes you think about your place on the planet now and appreciate that we are not the only ones here. In Rhine's world all of the other countries have been totally decimated. Paris is just a memory, China has vanished, and Germany only exists in old atlases. Rhine's America is completely alone in the world and for some reason this really bothered me, in the best possible way. Don't get me wrong, I wave my flag and love a good fireworks display on the Fourth of July, just like most Americans, but I also like knowing that there are different cultures and places yet to be explored out there. I can't imagine being the last country on earth and what that would mean. DeStefano has made this world so believable that you can't help but reflect upon it.
We're only here for a little while: A huge theme in this book is time. In the world of Wither men only live to be 25 and women only 20 so throughout the book Rhine and her companions are trying to make the most of the time they have left in different ways. The best part about this theme is that it doesn't just apply to DeSefano's characters. Sure we may have more like 80-something years on Earth but in the grand scheme of things that's no time at all. There are tortoises walking around that were born before our great grand parents after all. While reading Wither, I found myself reflecting on how short of a time we really have here and how important it is not to waste it. This is a great thing to be reminded of, especially in such a fun, creepy way and really helps you relate to Rhine and her sister wives.


DISLIKES:


Again with the child-prostitution: Okay so I realize that there is a reason that this issue is included in the book: to underline the creepiness and cruelty of Rhine's world. Still, I will never get used to seeing this in books. One of Rhine's sister wives is only 13 at the beginning of this book! 13! Gross. Just not my cup of tea.
Why romance? (POSSIBLE SPOILERS): The whole romance aspect of this book just seems pointless. There are basically two potential love interests in the story (yay love triangles, not). First there is Rhine's husband, Linden. He is a whimpy, clueless man who's father is holding Rhine prisoner. Not to mention he goes around impregnating 13 year olds (not cool). Why Rhine would even entertain the idea of being with this guy voluntarily is beyond me. Then we have Gabriel. He has his own drawbacks, mainly that he seems sort of okay living in this awful place and might have a pretty bad case of Stockholm Syndrome. Mostly, though, my problem with him as a romantic interest is that Rhine doesn't really know him at all. This is one of those books where I really don't see the need for romantic entanglements. I feel like they had a good story and then shoved some romance in for good measure. Not a fan.


IN BETWEEN:

Very dark: And when I say dark I don't mean sort of spooky with some gore mixed in. I mean chopping up bodies in a basement dark. In a way this made it really unpleasant to read sometimes. At the same time though, this darkness is what gives the book its appeal and what keeps the reader going. You want to find out what's going on and suffering mentally along with Rhine makes you want that payoff even more.


In the end, I was really glad that I decided to go ahead and read this one. Even though it left me with some icky feelings and questions about my own cynicism, I really enjoyed it. I would recommend this to all lovers of dystopian, not so much for the romantics. I will definitely be checking out Fever and the final book in the trilogy Sever soon!
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Spell-Binding!
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
Wither has left me completely and utterly heartbroken. From the elegant prose to the creation of monsters of men, I don't think I have ever been this shaken - or hopeful - after finishing a book.

First I would like to address a couple issues I have seen others raise - namely, the lack of world-building and vagueness surrounding this dystopian future. I admit - the world-building was lacklustre, and the level to which my beliefs had to be suspended for any of it to be remotely believable was quite high. However, for whatever reason, I was not bothered by either of these issues. The fact that North America is the only continent left untouched after (nuclear?) warfare is negligible - egotistical, yes - but otherwise completely unnecessary for the plot to move forward, and thus I was able to overlook its presumptuousness. The fact that it is extremely unlikely that every person inhabiting the Earth would be vaccinated (and thus infected with the virus) was also something I could overlook, as I don't find it hard to believe that some type of forced inoculation would be implemented in a society looking to eradicate all disease. (I'm also aware that all is not as it seems in most dystopians, and that what seem to be infallible truths have a way of becoming not-so-infallible as series' progress). And as for the science behind the exactness of the age with which the virus affects each gender, as a non-scientist, I took no issue with its lack of explanation. I assumed that if a society as seemingly technologically advanced as this had no explanation, then there wasn't one to be found (yet) - similar to how doctor's today are unable to explain why some people contract cancer, while others remain cancer free.

I absolutely loved Rhine. There were so many times where I questioned her reasons for wanting to escape, as she seemingly had paradise handed to her on a silver platter, before I remembered how I might feel if told that I would spend my short time on earth as a prisoner. At the end of the day, a well-treated prisoner is just that - a prisoner - and DeStefano made it very easy to blur the lines, allowing me to question Rhine's lack of acceptance of her new life, before reminding how much freedom and personal autonomy is worth: everything. I loved that her fear of Housemaster Vaughan didn't leak into her relationship with Linden, and that she was able to see Linden for the person he is - a mere pawn in his father's game. I still question her reasons for not telling Linden the truth about her abduction and her life with her brother or the truth about his father's evilness, but I'm hoping for an explanation in the next instalment.

I loved the relationship that DeStefano built between Linden, Rhine, Cecily and Jenna. It was so interesting to witness what a polygamous relationship might be like, and I loved experiencing Rhine's embarrassment at walking in on Jenna and Linden after having sex, or at her jealousy (and then astonishment for being jealous) at seeing his closeness to Cecily that only a special kind of intimacy brings. The sisterhood they shared was so strange, but so realistic, that I couldn't help but believe in their world and begin to hope for their futures. Cecily was the epitome of an annoying younger sister, but one that you can't help but love. Her mistreatment of the attendants, her immature need for attention and her naiveté about Housemaster Vaughan's true intentions all spoke volumes about her young age and lack of experience, which had me finding her endearing. Jenna was full of pain and secrets, and while she seems less memorable, the role she played was invaluable. And Linden. Poor, clueless Linden. I hated him at first, and each mention of his gold teeth had me involuntarily shuddering. As the book progressed, and I learned more about him and his intentions, I secretly wished Rhine would give up on her dreams of escape in order to save him from further harm.

Lastly, the perfect villain - Housemaster Vaughan. A respectable doctor who claims to only want the best for his son (which means finding the antidote to the deadly virus that plagues the entirety of humanity) who secretly keeps bodies in his basement for his experiments and wishes for grandchildren so he can experiment on their DNA. A man who would kidnap a van-full of girls, let his son pick three for his brides, and then have the remaining girls executed - they're unnecessary, so why keep them? A man who smiles while he whispers in your ear that if you want to continue to live, you won't try running away again. A man who seems to have eyes and ears everywhere, who controls everyone in his house like a puppeteer, who lets no one escape his grasp alive - or dead. DeStefano's descriptions of Housemaster Vaughan will haunt my nightmares, and I still can't see his name without picturing snake-like features on an older man's face.

So while flawed, Wither is definitely a must-read for me. Not everyone will be able to set aside its flaws like I did, but for those who can, you will find a completely spell-binding story that keeps your heart tugging in different directions, only for you to realize that it would have broken regardless of which direction was chosen. Yet, out of that heartbreak is a hopefulness that I can't seem to shake. I have a feeling that tomorrow I might see the world slightly brighter, and have Wither to thank for it.
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Being a Woman Sucks in a Dystopia
Overall rating
 
3.7
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
2.0
Writing Style
 
5.0
Wither was really good but also incredibly frustrating. I literally yelled at the book on several occasions. My irritation at the book and Rhine's decisions are an indication of quality in this case. Were the book more comfortable, it would not be doing the subject matter justice. There are serious themes being dealt with here: sexuality, gender, ethics and stockholm syndrome top the bill.

The world building was pretty amazing. While DeStefano has no real scientific reason for why the succeeding generation were all dying off a virus at those particular ages, I did not have too much trouble believing such a thing possible. It seems likely that messing with life through genetic engineering could have such horrible and unforeseen consequences. Perhaps most unlikely from my point of view was the precision of the deaths, with all women and men dying at the same ages. And why do men live five years longer?

Even more than this setting, I loved what she built out from this premise. The world she depicts is horrifying because of how possible it seems given a few crucial things gone wrong. I have no difficulty envisioning a society with such a limited life span turning women into reproduction machines. A small step from that is a return to bigamy, so that wealthy men can have a better chance of fathering progeny, and a powerful sex trade. As a woman, this is horrifying, and that is part of what made the book resonate so strongly with me.

This is the first in a trilogy, which I will definitely be super eager to read the next books of. The ending of Wither could easily have been an ending to Rhine's story, if an unclear one (not uncommon in dystopias), but I'm glad that it's not. The ending of this book struck me as a bit too positive and light given the tone of the rest of the novel, but with more books to come it is but a brief respite for our heroine. I can't wait to find out what happens next!

Also, I have to say that this is one of the prettiest books I have seen in a while. The formatting is gorgeous, not to mention the cover. Go out and find a copy to read!
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Liked it, but didn't love it
Overall rating
 
3.5
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
3.0
Writing Style
 
N/A
Well. Did I like Wither? YES. Did I love Wither? Ummm...sadly, no.
I think the problem was that, for some reason - and I really don't know why - I just didn't really connect with the characters or the story. I think, if only I had been drawn in to the world and characters of Wither more, then I probably would have loved it instead of just liking it. Instead, though, I felt a little detached from the story throughout and, therefore, it didn't really evoke much of the emotion in me that I feel it should have.

For example, the romance between Rhine and Gabriel. They fell in love but I never really felt it. Sure, I could see the possibility of romance in the early days when Rhine first met Gabriel but I don't think it developed very well - it seemed to jump straight from bud (at the beginning of the book) to full flower (at the end) without ever really blossoming in between. Gabriel always felt more like Rhine's friend to me; the few stolen kisses they shared didn't really change that.

Surprisingly, the character I felt I sympathised with most was Linden. Despite the fact that Rhine could never forgive him for being the reason behind her abduction, I liked Linden. He seemed a truly sweet character and you could tell he honestly loved Rhine. He himself was oblivious to the doings of his father, the only character who really was not very nice, and so was almost as much as a prisoner in his own beautiful, 'perfect' life as Rhine was.

Nevertheless, despite my lack of connection with Wither, it really was a very beautifully-written story. The writing was just as beautiful as I imagine Linden's mansion would have been. The storyline was good and perhaps next time I read it (and I do intend to read it again) I will savour the story more slowly and find myself drawn into it more, and then I will love it.
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An Intriguing Book
Overall rating
 
4.3
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
5.0
The premise of this book is intriguing. The writing is accomplished. The difficult questions raised about the value of life and how far science is willing to go (and the consequences of that) are engrossing. I just wanted a little bit more from the story. The pacing felt a bit slow, and all of the scary things in the book are supposed to be scary only because the character TELLS us it's scary. We don't really SEE the scary things at all. However, it is a very interesting book and I finished it quickly as a result. I think it will have many fans.
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An Entertaining Blend of Dystopia and Coming of Age
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
N/A
Characters
 
N/A
Writing Style
 
4.0
a review by Angel Fish

Wither, a somewhat unique novel set in the future of the United States, is about a girl named Rhine Ellery who lives in a world where technicalities with experimenting have led to girls mysteriously dying at the age of 20 and men at age 25. Rhine, who's sixteen, scrambles to survive in a neighborhood in Manhattan, where her twin brother and herself struggle to make ends meet by taking various factory jobs. When applying for another occupation, she is surprised to find that the people awaiting her are not business owners, but Gatherers, people employed to capture girls and sell them to House Governors so as to produce children and repopulate the world. Rhine is sent to live with a House Governor named Linden, who Rhine vows to be exacted revenge on, and while occupying the glorious mansions and its wide arrange of lush gardens, she spends her days looking for escape back to her brother. She spends her days with two other girls, who she calls her sister wives: Jenna, a girl of eighteen who is growing close to her dying date, and Cecily, a mere child at age 13. But escape is more complicated than Rhine could ever imagine. Vaughn, the cruel housemaster who punishes the people that disobey him easily, yet eager to find the antidote for the mysterious illness that has touched his children (he is a First Generation, meaning he still grows over the age of 25,) manipulates the household of this mansion so carefully that Rhine doesn't know who is to trust and who is faithful. When she meets the handsome servant Gabriel, she immediately accepts him as trustworthy. But will this harmless endeavor grow to something extremely dangerous?

Lauren DeStefano successfully creates an intricate balance of character development that blends raw human emotion with a deeper layer of personalities that are not so different from the way we are today. Her writing is pure and original, her touches of sensory detail almost poetic to the ears. Although I wouldn't call this one of my favorite books of all time, Wither came close to reaching that list. The premise is interesting and partly creative ( I kept comparing it to The Hunger Games, and I could find many similarities) but the way she pulls it off is totally different and extremely stylized and thoughtful compared to to other dystopian science fiction reads. The end left me at a cliffhanger but satisfied me for the time being. I will be waiting eagerly for the Chemical Garden Trilogy's next book!
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Lived Up to the Hype
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
0.0
Writing Style
 
0.0
Reader reviewed by Ruthie

Before Wither even hit the shelves, I've heard nothing but great reviews about it. I can say that this too, is like every review out there. Wither was great! The characters were fresh and fantastic. (Personally, I likes Jenna best. Out of the three wives I felt her back story was more intense and depressing.) Not to mention the fact that Lauren DeStefano is a debut author for 2011. She did a fantastic job creating the world for Wither. Last but not least is my only piece of criticism. I felt that the ending was just...awkward. The last chapter could have been removed and the story would have left off on a better note. It wasn't necessary by any means. However I can't wait for the next book and can't wait to see more from Lauren!


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