Wither by Lauren DeStefano (Chemical Garden #1)
Simon & Schuster, March 22, 2011
Read for 2011 Debut Author Challenge
Summary from Goodreads:
What if you knew exactly when you would die?Just when I think that I've had it with dystopian fiction--that I've mired myself in enough series, that every possible scenario that can be thought of has been thought of--along comes another title that I just absolutely fall in love with. Wither is the first in a trilogy, and DeStefano does a fabulous job of creating a completely different dystopian world. All diseases have been eradicated--but at such a cost! All people born after the "first generation" have specific death dates--boys will die when they reach 25, girls die at 20. Instead of living their short lives to the fullest, seventeen-year-old Rhine and her twin Rowan are orphaned and must protect their meager possessions, and each other, from other orphans, crazed members of society, and Gatherers, who kidnap girls and force them into polygamous marriages. Worse, there are some girls who are kidnapped but later deemed unworthy, and naturally they're not returned to their homes.
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.
It wouldn't be much of a story if nothing happened to Rhine, right? She is one of the "lucky" three who are forced into a polygamous marriage. The three sister wives--Rhine, thirteen-year-old Cecily and eighteen-year-old Jenna--soon forge a strong bond, but each girl has their own way of dealing with their husband. Cecily has come from an orphanage and thinks that life couldn't get any better. As a result, she's willing to do whatever her husband asks of her. Jenna wants nothing to do with him, and refuses to open her heart to him. And Rhine is somewhere in the middle--she hates her husband and how she came to be his wife, but knows that the life she now has is better than anything else she has known. Still, she thinks of escape constantly and reealizes that chances of escape would be better if she were first wife. So she takes a middle-of-the-road approach to Linden--befriending him and pretending to love him, but refusing to consummate their marriage.
I find it hard to believe that this is Lauren DeStefano's debut novel. Readers are sucked right into this new future. Rhine is our narrator, so of course we're meant to see things her way. However, we're given enough of a glimpse into this strange marriage that we can sympathize with both Cecily and Jenna, and we can understand why they behave as they do. Oh, Jenna! She was, I think, my favorite character in this novel (of course this was a given, as she shares a name with my daughter, but she proved herself throughout the novel--always true to herself and what she believed in.)
We also come to realize, as the sister wives do, that Linden might not be the evil mastermind we had previously thought him to be. He might, in fact, be just as much of a prisoner as his three lovely wives. Don't forget, after all, that he's got a death sentence, too.
A great debut novel. I'm so wrapped up in this world that I cannot wait for the second novel to come out. There are questions, to be sure, but I'm hopeful that all the answers will be forthcoming in books 2 & 3.
eGalley received from publisher.
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Enjoy your reading!