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(The Chemical Garden #1)

by Lauren DeStefano

genre: dystopian, YA

Synopsis from Goodreads

witherBy age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.

When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape–before her time runs out?

Together with one of Linden’s servants-Gabriel-Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?


I thought it was interesting that DeStefano is using what I assume to be a 1 star review of her book as her profile header on Twitter. “Most inappropriate book I have ever read…” it starts. With a scoff, I have to wonder, did you read the description? I have, on occasion, purchased books by nothing more than the cover, so I guess I have little room to talk. (Remember when I thought The Help was non-fiction? Yeah.. oops!) However, if one had read the description, as I’m assuming you have if you’ve gotten this far in the post, that person would know what they are getting into. Unlike other books, which caught me by surprise, including Forbidden Mind, and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, it’s spelled out in the description. If you are going to be offended by the content, select a different book.

That said, Wither turned out to be a meh 3 star book. Kudos to DeStefano for coming up with the plot. It’s spurred the flames for another Ermilia side project we’ll be rolling out soon. I just wish it had gone by faster. Infinitely better than The Maze Runner, it had a similar “so, this is your life, what are you doing about it?” vibe. Like Thomas, there’s little Rhine can do to fight back. You don’t want her to be so foolhardy to get herself killed, and you don’t want her to succeed too easily. It was a difficult balance.

The characters confused me and I had trouble relating to them. You have Rhine, a kidnapped 16 year old who fully expects to die in four years, a 13 year old orphan desperately wanting to give her husband a child, and an 18 year old who swears her husband will never share her bed but ends up having more sex with him than the other two. I have a hunch regarding the latter, and I really wish I could pull her out of the book to talk to her, to get some answers to questions I know the next two books won’t resolve. If anything, I felt more for her than Rhine.

On the plus side, Wither makes you think. I don’t know if there’s enough for a full book club discussion, but if you started reading it preparing for such, I’m sure you could find enough to fill an hour.

3 out of 5 stars.

You might like Wither if:

  • You liked The Maze Runner
  • You liked Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Awkward love triangles make you giddy
  • You enjoy villains you can truly hate

-Eliabeth Hawthorne

To see what other books we’ve reviewed, check out our book reviews page.