People who really know me have realized that I have a mild case of paranoia. I’ve been known to utter the phrase “until the machines rise up” in casual conversations. (And yes, I do think the machines will eventually take over. I can see the Matrix.) It’s odd, then, that dystopian fiction is my favorite genre. (I became a fan when I read Fahrenheit 451 in the eighth grade.) Well, my latest read, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, is an all-too-believable view of the near future. No, the machines have not risen up yet, but society’s desire to wipe out all disease and have perfect, healthy children has backfired in a major way. The science presented in this book is totally plausible, and I fear that some of it may cross the divide between science fiction and science fact if we’re not careful.
In mankind’s quest for physical perfection, time has become the ultimate scarce resource. Yes, the world is virtually disease-free, but the side-effect of such health is the untimely death of all people born in the new generations. No male lives past the age of twenty-five, and no female lives past the age of twenty. In essence, people are ticking time-bombs from the moment of birth. First generation doctors and scientists (who kind of started this whole mess) are trying to find an antidote for the virus killing their children and grandchildren, but time is always working against them. Humans are quickly becoming an endangered species, and some will go to any lengths—including kidnapping young girls and forcing them to be “breeders”—to keep the population from dying out. That’s where sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery’s story begins…
Rhine, along with about a dozen other girls, is taken from her home—and her twin brother—in Manhattan. She’s transported hundreds of miles so that a wealthy young man, Linden Ashby, can choose those he desires to be his wives. That’s right…wives…as in plural. Both Linden and his father are struck by Rhine’s unique features, so she is chosen as a bride. She is joined by two sister wives: Jenna, a girl who has less than two years until her twentieth birthday and who makes her disgust of this situation very clear, and Cecily, a thirteen-year-old girl who was seemingly groomed for this life in an orphanage and is weirdly excited about everything that awaits her. Rhine, like Jenna, is also disgusted with her fate, but unlike Jenna, who is just counting down the days until her death, Rhine plans to do something about it.
Almost immediately upon arriving at the mansion that is to be her new home, Rhine begins to think of escape plans. While there appear to be no immediate solutions, Rhine is sure that an opportunity will eventually present itself. Rhine bides her time, gets to know her new husband, and grows closer to her sister wives. She also forms an attachment to Gabriel, a servant in her new home who may have his own reasons for wanting to escape.
As Rhine looks for ways to escape this life she never wanted, she also becomes a participant in it. She grows closer to Linden and realizes he’s not the monster she’s made him out to be in her head. She develops real bonds with her sister wives and worries about their fates should her quest for freedom prove successful. She discovers horrifying things about her father-in-law Vaughn, the dictatorial and terrifying Housemaster, that make her want to expose him for the liar and murderer he is. Through all this, though, Rhine’s primary goal remains the same—to escape to freedom, get back to her brother, and, possibly, start a new life with someone who is coming to mean a lot to her. Will she find a way out, or will she remain a prisoner and spend the rest of her short life withering away? Read Wither, the first book in the Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano, to learn the truth.
I was engrossed in this book from page one, and I highly recommend it to teen readers who enjoy dystopian fiction. (Some of the subject matter is probably a little too mature for middle-grade readers.) Wither presents an interesting and eye-opening look at polygamous relationships, and it shows readers that science may not be the ultimate answer for all of the world’s problems. The “solutions” to these problems may be more dangerous and life-threatening that the problems themselves. For those who often contemplate what the future may hold, Wither provides a conceivable glimpse into life for generations to come. Join me in the paranoia, won’t you?
The second book in this trilogy, Fever, is already out, and I plan to read it once I’ve fully processed what happened in Wither. The third book is currently untitled, and it is scheduled for an April 2013 release. You can also check out an eBook, Seeds of Wither, which contains details of the world Lauren DeStefano created in Wither, a new short story titled “The First Bride,” a map of the wives floor, and more!
For those who would like more information about Wither, the rest of the Chemical Garden trilogy, and author Lauren DeStefano, visit http://laurendestefano.com/ and http://thechemicalgardenbooks.com/wither/. You can also follow Lauren on Twitter @laurenDeStefano, on Tumblr at http://laurendestefano.tumblr.com/, and become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/LaurenDeStefanoFan.
Still not enough? Well, check out this awesome Wither book trailer produced by Simon & Schuster Videos. Enjoy!