Wither (The Chemical Garden #1)
My favorite thing about Wither was. . .Linden Ashby.
I fell in love with that innocent, naive boy-husband. He is only twenty-one years old. He has never seen the world, has lived under his father's seemingly caring thumb for his entire life. He knows so little about his wives, yet he loves them honestly and deeply. I expected to hate him, to despise him for imprisoning these women. Instead I fell in love with him, and I felt for Rhine every time she felt for him.
I also really connected with Rhine's feelings for her sister wives. I never had sisters, and it was really powerful to me to read about the connections she formed with Jenna and Cecily over the course of the book. Rhine was so real, so honest, and so believable - three things I highly value in a female protagonist.
Wither is a strong series debut, for fans of other trilogies like Shatter Me, Crewel, and Divergent.
I enjoyed this book. It's Dystopia meets TLC's "Sister Wives" meets "Twilight Zone" meets "Romeo and Juliet"., sort of. :) A beautiful cover and a well written story that's interesting, suspenseful, heart breaking, romantic and slightly creepy all at the same time.
In this story, 16 year old, Rhine Ellery, 19 year old Jenna and 13 year old Cecily are kidnapped from Manhattan and forced to become sister wives to Linden Ashby, the 20 year old son of rich scientist Vaughn Ashby. Dr. Ashby's lifelong goal is to find a cure for the "virus" that has been claiming the lives of the world's children for the past several generations. Females only live until the age of 20 and males only live until the age of 25 and no one can seem to figure out why. Dr. Ashby will do whatever it takes to prolong the life of his only son even at the expense of his daughter-in-laws lives.
Each of the wives views the marriage differently but Rhine only wants to escape and return to her twin brother, Rowan who has no idea what has happened to her. She thinks she has everyone in her new life figured out but slowly begins to realize that not everyone and everything is as it seems. She also discovers that there have been other wives before she and her "sisters" which adds a sinister twist. In her efforts to formulate an escape plan, she enlists the help of young, good looking Gabriel, one of the servants in her new home with whom she's developing a dangerous attraction to.
Ahh, Gabriel, like Rhine, he too is an orphan but has served at the mansion for so long he doesn't remember what life (freedom) is like outside of it but will do almost anything to help her escape. He's brave, compassionate but most of all he's kind even when those around him are not so nice to him.
Linden, Rhine's new husband is sheltered, clueless and needy but he does have a genuine love for her. He grows on you after awhile but I did find myself torn between feeling sorry for him and wanting to shake him and yell, "Wake up man!".
Linden's father is CREEPY! There's just no other word for him. It's like watching a scary movie when the bad guy is coming up to his next victim with a smile on his face and a knife behind his back and you're screaming at the person on the screen to "RUN AWAY!" but the person just walks right into the trap and ends up hacked to bits. Yep, that's Dr. Vaughn Ashby for you.
Cecily is the youngest and she's caught between still being a child and wanting so badly to be a woman. One minute she wants to be BFF's with Rhine and Jenna and the next minute she's a jealous wife. DeStefano did a great job of showing her internal battle with this and her external tantrums.
Jenna is probably my favorite character. She's stoic, feisty, graceful, funny, and incredibly selfless which you wouldn't expect given her background. We should all be so lucky to have a Jenna in our lives.
I liked the way this first book of the trilogy ended. It left me with a subtle peace, which I'm sure is a hologram* all it's own but I also can't wait for the next book!
*(if you read the book, you'll understand this reference)
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.
As the story begins, we know that the world as we know it has changed. A massive nuclear war has left all continents except North America decimated. Genetic modifications in the 21st century have caused horrific consequences for future generations. Now, girls die at the age of 20 and boys at 25. There is no antidote. In a desperate attempt to preserve life, some "Gatherers" have started collecting girls of child bearing age to auction off to the highest bidder. The lucky ones get married off to a wealthy benefactor. The not-so-lucky ones meet a much darker fate.
Enter Rhine, Jenna, and Cecily. They are each plucked from their daily lives at different ages to be married off to the rich Linden Ashby. His father, Housemaster Vaughn, is an evil snake set on discovering an antidote at any costs. These characters were interesting, but lacking in some areas. For instance, Jenna disappointed me. She spoke of hating Linden and Housemaster Vaughn for what they have done (and continue to do), but yet she hops between the sheets with Linden at any chance she gets. In one scene, it's pretty obvious she doesn't mind it either. Cecily is annoying. She's all about growing up too quickly and being a big shot, but she comes across as a whiny brat. I really couldn't handle her role in everything. Worst of all though, was Linden. He is his father's puppet and goes along with his ridiculous role in life without questioning anything. He (very) willingly marries three girls soon after his first wife's death. He has no problems with fulfilling the role of husband with girls as young as 13. That's so disgusting, considering he's 20! I just couldn't get over that.
I really hoped Rhine would be better, but she was only so-so. I liked that she kept to her original plans, but... It seems she had feelings for both Gabriel and Linden, but she never did much to interact with Gabriel. She always doubted herself and her feelings. For this type of book, there really needed to be a stronger female lead. I felt like a third row passenger while reading this book. I was not actively involved in the story, but there was just enough to keep me from zoning out completely.
I was impressed, however, with the writing. This was a debut book from a young writer that has obvious talent. I am exited to see how her writing develops and improves as this story continues to grow.
Do I think this is one of the greatest dystopians I've ever read? Not really. But I am glad I picked it for the September book club because I think the younger girls will enjoy it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
To start, the concept was much different than any other dystopian I've read. Most are simply a post-apocalyptic world or a society with major flaws. I found it a bit difficult to imagine a world where most things still appear normal in the sense of how we see the world now knowing it was dystopian. It was also hard to imagine a world where "men" can be 15. I mean, the people who were "old" and close to death were only a year older than myself. It's crazy.
The writing in Wither was absolutely fantastic. It was beautiful and yet morose. The descriptions of everything from snow to fancy dresses were so fantastic, I wanted to be there myself despite the hopelessness of the world. And the characters DeStefano creates are just as fantastic as the writing itself. I found myself feeling sympathy for Linden though I knew I should hate him as Rhine did. Speaking of Rhine. I loved her. She was so genuine and yet still a strong lead. Instead of being all pushy and in-your-face about her strength and determination, though, she kept it underneath the surface making me respect her all the more.
I was so torn between how I wanted it to end. I both wanted Rhine to escape and to stay. In the end, I was happy with the ending but it sadly didn't leave me with that "I need more now!" feeling. If the cover didn't say Trilogy right on it, I could have easily assumed this was a standalone. Don't mistake that minor whining on my part to be a true complaint, though. I will be awaiting the next in the series as you most certainly will when you read it.
Final thoughts: Any fan of dystopia will definitely want to get their hands on this. If you're wary of dystopian or think you don't like it, give this one a try. It's a different vibe than the "despair, despair, despair" of others. Go to the bookstore, library, borrow from a friend: whatever you need to do, go get this book immediately.
I really liked how unique and creative Lauren was about this world. Life lasts only until you’re 25, 20 for females, with girls being bought and sold to men like play toys?! Wow! Right from the start Lauren paints a dark and twisted picture where poor Rhine has to adapt to her new life and try her best to escape it. The characters are what really draws you in since most of the book is either Rhine monologuing, which was a bit too much for me, or her interactions with the other characters. Linden is very sweet, and clearly a good guy in a terrible situation. His father, the Housemater, however, is quite horrific and a true villain if I ever saw one!
There wasn’t a lot of action in this book and like I said, a bit too much inner monologuing, but the series itself does have potential. While it’s true that Wither was kind of slow and dragged out for me, I’m curious to see Rhine’s future and how this all plays out. I’ll be looking forward to reading Fever.
I need to stop doing that, really, reading reviews before I read the book!
But I have grown to love dystopian novels. This one in particular is something that I would definitely not like being thrown into. The world is a scary one with no hope.
The story in itself is something I had never read about before, and the further I got into the book, the more I was growing attached to the three sister wives. Also, I feel sorry for Linden!
I’m ready for the next one!