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Review: Wither

Wither is the debut young adult novel for author Lauren DeStefano, and the first book in the Chemical Garden trilogy.

It will be released on March 22, 2011 in the U.S. in hardcover and eBook formats and is available for pre-order online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in both formats.

Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, the print edition is 368 pages.

Wither is one of the books that can be chosen for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge hosted by Kristi at TheStorySiren.com. It is one of my original twelve picks.

Goodreads description:

What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden’s genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.

***

The world has grown very small. What was once a planet that was filled with different sights and sounds and experiences, has been reduced to what can be found on just one continent. And a world once occupied by people of all ages has now been virtually emptied of all but the young, where only a small percentage of those above age twenty-five remain.

The third world war cleared the planet of most of its inhabitants and livable spaces. Genetic manipulation took care of the rest. Now, the lifespan of a man is just twenty-five years and that of a woman only twenty.

In this harsh new landscape the Gatherers are hired by the wealthy to search for young girls that can be taken against their will and forced into marriage in order to bear as many children as possible to keep the population from extinction while scientists search for a cure.

Rhine Ellery had tried to take all precautions against capture. Her twin brother Rowan would kill to keep her safe. But when money runs tight, just the one mistake lands her in the back of a van with a group of girls headed to an unknown destination to one of any number of undesirable fates – chosen to be one of a wealthy man’s wives, rejected and sold into prostitution, or executed.

Some might consider forced marriage a small price to pay for living a life of luxury and being waited on hand and foot, especially given the alternatives. But for Rhine, living in a cage, no matter how luxurious, is not how she wants to spend her last four years. Her only goal is to return to her brother, to her home. And regain her freedom.

***

Wither is an exquisitely beautiful, melodic and gracefully told story. The futuristic world that the author has created is permeated with an air of melancholy, as all those born have just twenty to twenty-five years to live an entire lifetime of experiences.

In this bleak future, by the time a girl reaches the age of sixteen she’s nearing the end of her life. Rarely do parents get more than a year or two with their children – orphanages are teeming with children whose parents have died. And the likelihood of being forced into marriage is high for girls like Rhine.

Rhine Ellery and her brother Rowan have managed to survive together after the death of their parents. But when Rhine is taken by the Gatherers and chosen to become one of three new wives for Linden Ashby she has no way of letting her twin know what has happened.

Wither is the story of her journey as she learns just how important freedom and choice are to her, even when her only hope for freedom just might be in death. She must decide whether choosing to live a lie in order to protect her sister wives is worth giving up everything, including her future with Gabriel – the only one she felt close enough to share all her secrets with – and her chance to return home to her brother Rowan.

Author Lauren DeStefano has written a richly textured story that is moving and heartbreaking and heartwarming, with passages that are simply poetic. The elegance and cadence of her writing make this story just float across the pages even though the subject matter is often in direct contrast – at times grave or dark.

The dystopian society created in the story is not one out in left-field and can very easily be envisioned as one of our possible futures. Rhine is a strong female lead character who is also caring, sympathetic and nurturing. And even amidst the glitz and glam of her new surroundings, she can still keep her focus on what is most important to her.

This story is unquestionably a must read for fans of dystopian novels, stories that will make you think, and ones that are elegant and beautiful and tragic.

Reviewer gives this book [rating=5]

On a personal note:

I have been putting off reading this story for a while now. Big mistake. I had been reading a number of dystopian novels and just wanted to take a break before starting yet another one.

But with the impending release, I knew that it was now or never. And I am so happy I chose “now.”

I am totally in love with this story, the world and the characters. (Well, the good guys anyway.) And from what I understand this is a trilogy, so I am now completely desperate to read the next book!

I spent much of the read worrying about just how devastating things were going to get and whether or not I would end up sobbing my way through the last part of the book.

I may not have sobbed but my heart did break, and yes, there were tears.

And at the end I was left feeling so sorry for so many of the characters. I promise, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is definitely happiness in this book, but there is always a twinge of sadness to go along with.

Some may say that this reminds them of The Handmaid’s Tale. I can sort of see that, but to me Wither reads nothing like that book, which I did not give five stars to. (Though the whole required reading thing may have jaded my view of that book.) But regardless, I definitely preferred author Lauren DeStefano’s characters and found her style of writing way more enjoyable.

Here are just a few of the exquisite passages from the eARC of Wither:

Eventually I realize that I am holding on to him just as tightly as he holds on to me. And here we are: two small dying things, as the world ends around us like falling autumn leaves.

***

The room is colder, and the nightmare is growing into so much more than I thought it could be. It only gets worse in this mansion of sweet smells and extra bright gardens. I think of the gunshots that have haunted me since I arrived.

***

She takes my hand, and it’s small and warm. A child’s hand. She was so eager to abandon her youth, in this world that has stolen the luxury of time, and I wonder who she would have been if only she could have had more years to live.

***

To read an excerpt from chapter one on the publisher’s website, click here.

UPDATE: Book trailer for Wither:

This review is based on an eARC I received as part of Simon & Schuster’s Galley Grab program.

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