Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I read this book quickly. It's certainly intriguing, full of danger for its main character right from the start. Wither, by Lauren DeStefano, is supposedly for young adults, but the only criteria met for that genre is a main character who's 16. Nothing else aside from, perhaps, sensationalism (which is very prevalent in young adult fiction) gives cause for this book to be young adult, and in fact, the book is somewhat disturbing, containing a rather adult premise.

Rhine lives in a dystopian world where disease has been eradicated and the first generation to receive this benefit is still alive and well, though growing old. But the world is not a happy place. The chemicals that brought about such a miracle in the world cursed the land, and North America is the only continent still intact (convenient for us!). Even the oceans are polluted. But the worst aftereffect is manifested in the children and grandchildren of that first generation. No male can survive past 25, and no female past 20. Rhine has four years to live.

There are those from the first generation (including Rhine's parents, killed in an accident) who are working to try to reverse their mistakes, and then there are those who are working to find a cure, no matter what the cost, marrying multiple wives and breeding children to use as test subjects, desperately trying to find a way for the human race to hang on.

Rhine is kidnapped and sold with two other teenagers to be wives for a wealthy, but evil, lab scientist's son. With only four years to live, she could try to enjoy them in relative safety and comfort, sampling the world through holograms and never having to leave her home. She could even be the First Wife, with special privileges, but ultimately, she would be a prisoner. Or...she can bide her time and make her escape to freedom. Either way, it will cost her, physically and relationally, as she comes to know her "sister wives" and the man they all share as husband.

Now, does that sound like a young adult novel? It sounds to me more like the disturbing but oh-so-real memoirs of middle eastern women that I sometimes read. Although, amazingly, Rhine never has to sleep with her husband (since one of the wives becomes pregnant and the other satisfies his sexual needs), I found the material to be a little dark and mature for teens. Rhine never felt like a 16-year-old to me. She felt like a girl who had to grow up fast, becoming a woman overnight, and I don't think there's anything in common between her and modern American teenage girls.

Wither is the first in the Chemical Garden Trilogy, and it's available in March 2011. I am interested in knowing what happens to Rhine and if a cure if discovered before she turns 20. But I can't recommend this book to teenage girls.

Four stars for a disturbing, sensational, intriguing read. Two stars for inappropriate audience targeting.

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