[Book Review] Wither (The Chemical Garden #1) by Lauren DeStefano



This is an old review, though I still feel the same about it now as I did then.

Well… I might be a little angrier about it now.

Just maybe. >__>;;;

*This book was also used in a booktalk for class. (P.S. – There are probably some spoilers in here since I got mad at this one. Then AND now…) (P.S.S. – Long post is LONG.)

Wither by Lauren DeStefano • 2011 • Simon & Schuster • 358 pages

“[Rhine] proves herself to be a heroine who faces her situation with spirit and cleverness. The trapped bride and mysterious husband are straight out of Gothic romances. By stirring in elements of sheer creepiness with dystopia and the hot topic of polygamy, DeStefano creates a story that should have broad appeal.”

– School Library Journal

Genre/Theme: trapped brides, polygamy, dystopian. post-apocalyptic future, young girls becoming brides to bear children, teens, human trafficking (because that’s what it is and you can’t tell me otherwise)

Brief Summary: This is a sci-fi tale that is more “light sci-fi with a mix of the disturbing and teeny apocalyptic future” than anything else. Rhine and her sister-wives have been abducted and forced to marry a man, Linden, in order to make babies and (as they later find out) be experimented on to find a cure for the virus killing off the human population. But one way or another, they are basically baby making machines. The summary at the back of the book gives the ominous line “We’ve perfected children” and then goes on to say that in this futuristic world, all children are born genetically perfect with no diseases and, as such, do not get sick — but at a price. Their life expectancy is only 25 years (for the boys) and 20 years (for the girls). Under the guise of “protecting and ensuring the continued survival of the human race” girls are abducted as soon as they reach maturity (aka the moment they can make babies) and sold off to the highest bidder to become the wife to a man that will marry them (and soon after impregnate them).

Sadly, I wish I could say this summary was the biased review of one angry reviewer, but it’s actually not. If you don’t believe, you can read for yourself and tell me I’m wrong.

Evaluation: 2 of 5 stars

1-2 things you liked:

  • The concept, though I feel that it really fell short in terms of execution. It was a compelling idea for a story, but felt more like weird advertisement for the sect of Mormonism that practices polygamous relationships, especially with all the hype for that new TV show Sister-Wives right now. And since I already want to gorge my eyes and ears out from all the publicity its already garnering, this book was probably, from the get-go, gonna be a “no” for me. The parallels and timing for this book just seems a little too weird. (Granted, the book dealt with forced relationships and such, which is different from the sect of Mormonism that practices polygamy… as I’m under the understanding that most Mormon polygamous marriages are consensual… BUT STILL. I honestly don’t know what the publishers were thinking publishing this book now. Trend-hopping doesn’t even cut it here. Ughh….)
  • The obvious displeasure, but also the internalized conflict felt by the main character Rhine towards her new life as a sister-wife and the first wife of Lind Ashby. He is hopelessly in love with her, so she can’t really find it in herself to hate him. This part worked for me, though only to a degree. I wish they had gone somewhere different with it though…
  • That it “ended” happily. I really felt for the main character Rhine. Though the ending itself was a little corny to me. I was almost hoping she would be found out and be killed before she escaped, but what can I say?

1-2 things you didn’t like:

  • The term “sister-wives”. Even though it sounded interesting, it actually ended up being… It mean it was also very… ugh. Let’s just put it this way: I know marketing was definitely behind the word choice. Viewers of the show Sister-Wives is obviously one of the key target markets.
  • It might have just been me, but I felt that the relationship between Rhine and Gabriel was a little forced and… random. Granted, I could not see Rhine staying in that horrid house with her “husband” Linden, but at the same time, I just didn’t see her ending up with Gabriel, either.
  • ALSO, as I came to find out, this is part of a series or trilogy (which I didn’t know nor even get the impression of while reading) so a lot of things haven’t been resolved in this book. Including finding her brother (which was the only reason I was actually reading this for – I hoped they would find each other… ughhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHNLKGNF!!!?!) and also what happens to the remaining sister-wives left behind? Not that I care, but still. Unresolved questions that really didn’t need to be left hanging like this…. >______>;;;
  • Adding to the previous point: When I read it, even after I was finished, I never realized it was a series book. The ending didn’t even feel like another book should come from it, even though there were many questions still left unanswered about the characters. It just… I don’t know. I didn’t care about any of them enough to even be bothered. When I got to the end I was like, “……okay??? *closes book and write up this report*”

Would you recommend this book?: I dunno. There is no gratuitous sex or swearing. Just the concepts that can be a little “out there”. I would maybe recommend this book to anyone who wants an interesting LIGHT  (key on the LIGHT) sci-fi YA book. Just know it is part of a series/trilogy so there is another book already out (called Fever) and the third Sever will be Feb 2013.

Looking Back (Current Thoughts & Eval): Alright. So this is one of those situations when I didn’t write out the blaringly obvious negatives when I first read the book because… well… I’ll all for suspending belief so long as the story is good and the concept is interesting and characters are all “yay”. This… was almost one of those situations. Looking back on it now, I know for a fact that my positive review and even possible recommendation came from simply enjoying the concept even if the execution was complete shit. I think this would have played out better if the book had been written for adults about this gritty, dark, nasty world where adults have fucked up the world and the children are the ones to pay for it. Y’know. A story with more depth to it (as in, more plausible science and actual storytelling since this book is oddly labeled SCIENCE FICTION hur hur yeah… -___-;;; )

Whatever. I can deal with the lack of science in a SCIENCE FICTION YA NOVEL (Yeah, this book is never gonna live that down…) but what I can’t deal with is how the book went about trying (and failing) to convince us that its story-line and its whole WORLD makes sense. Listen. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE WORLD-BUILDING. GOOD, SOLID, PLAUSIBLE OR IMPROBABLE WORLD-BUILDING. I love falling into worlds. I love being immersed in whatever impractical or entirely-too-real fictional realms, parallel universes, dimensions, and fantastical planets authors can create in the pages of their books. I NEED that in order to really enjoy a book. Hell — I can even take a whole novel that is nothing BUT world-building and utterly nothing else. I don’t even need a plot. I’ll come up with that shit myself. Because if the WORLD and the CHARACTERS are brought to life, then the adventures can be endless. Fanfiction can be made. Imagination can run wild! THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.

But this book…

This fuckin’ BOOK….


I don’t even know what to say about this book. It had PROMISE. The premise sounded so interesting. Then I read it and everything fell apart.


I remember getting through the book and honestly staring at it like, “What the hell did I just read?” And not because it was weird, or even BAD… It just wasn’t good. Which is the BIG PROBLEM right there. I should not finish a book and wonder how I got through such badly developed scenarios.

The characters were decent enough — AND YET NOT — but this whole… I don’t know. Teeny vibe thing, with really crappy “teen emotions” (or what adults think teen emotions are like) was really bizarre.

Which also reminds me why I gave this book not half bad reviews. I was supposed to be reading this from the perspective of a potential teen reader.

Yeah… That was it. Yesss… Now it all makes sense.

I apologize immensely to all the teens and young adults who are smarter than this. You have been sorely underestimated. (Like the author and publisher obviously did when releasing this book and the subsequent books to follow in this series.)

And no. FYI, I did NOT read the rest of the series. There seemed no point whatsoever.

PS — To make matters worse, the copy of the book I had did NOT say The Chemical Gardens Trilogy on the cover like the current ones do. Or on the spine. OR THE DAMNED TITLE PAGE, FOR THAT MATTER. (…well… actually I don’t know about the title page, but I doubt I would have missed that if it had been there. And I know it wasn’t anywhere on the cover or spine because I remember getting a recall email from my library asking me to return the copy I had borrowed so they could replace it with a new one, presumably the current one you can buy now that actually says on the front that it’s part of a trilogy.)


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