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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AMAZING STORYTELLING
Every now and then, I try reading a new author and hit pay dirt. This was definitely one of those times. This book keep me turning pages until the end and I don't think it gets any better then that when reading.

The opening quote by T.S. Eliot ("This is the way the world ends not with a bang but a whimper.") is a very fitting start to this story of a...
Published on February 24, 2011 by Margaux Paschke

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70 of 75 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Emotionally gripping debut with a few stumbles, 3.5 stars
Lauren DeStefano's debut novel, Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy), opens with a harrowing scene: young women have been plucked off the streets and forced into the back of a van. Some will be killed, and others will be sold into polygamous marriages. Ever since geneticists made a mistake, all women die at age 20 and all men at age 25. Along with two other women, Rhine...
Published on March 16, 2011 by Neutron Lurver Reviews


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70 of 75 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Emotionally gripping debut with a few stumbles, 3.5 stars, March 16, 2011
Lauren DeStefano's debut novel, Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy), opens with a harrowing scene: young women have been plucked off the streets and forced into the back of a van. Some will be killed, and others will be sold into polygamous marriages. Ever since geneticists made a mistake, all women die at age 20 and all men at age 25. Along with two other women, Rhine is sold to a wealthy man as a replacement for his dying wife. Locked away in his mansion, Rhine must decide whether to accept the life of luxury she's been provided or whether to risk everything to escape back to a world of freedom and her twin brother.

WITHER opens with the best first chapter I've read in a while, and the story's hook will grab readers immediately. The book excels in its chilling depiction of the realities of Rhine's world, and the writing doesn't shy away from descriptions about sex and sexuality, the inner workings of the polygamous marriage, and how different people would adapt to the situation. Through its story, the novel also touches on hot issues like assisted reproduction and genetic engineering. Rhine and her two sister-wives, Cecily and Jenna, are sympathetic as characters in their own unique ways. I found their complicated relationships with one another to be the most compelling in the book. The novel also finishes with an ending that can stand on its own, even with the known sequel forthcoming.

Despite the extremely strong opening, storyline, and created world, the book faltered a bit. The mythology and world building regarding the "virus" and the resulting society was not always clear and had some plot holes. Rhine's romantic relationship with Gabriel, the servant boy, wasn't very moving, and some of the characters' actions were unclear in their reasoning or felt manufactured. For example, Rhine's flip-flopping about whether to stay or leave didn't always feel genuine. The different relationships depicted between Linden, the husband, and each of his wives also felt out of character for each woman at times.

While I did find a few things that could be improved, DeStefano is obviously a strong new force in the young adult dystopian genre, and I look forward to seeing where book two in her trilogy leads.

Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.
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58 of 68 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars fantastic premise and excellent start, but ultimately not my cup of tea, April 17, 2011
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The premise around this story is really interesting. Polygamy in a post-apocalyptic world? Very intriguing. I was excited when I sat down with this book.

It starts out well, and the horror and fear rippling through the girls is tangible. I started out liking Rhine a lot, and empathized with all three girls as they were forced into a marriage that they didn't necessarily want or understand. I really love the friendships that blossom between them, too. By the end of the story, they were close enough to be sisters, and something that affects one of them affects all. That was really well done.

I wish the world-building had been clearer. What is this virus? Why is North America the only continent left? Even if we don't get the full answer, something is better than nothing. Also, if the human race is dying, then a woman's womb would be a very precious commodity. Girls with no means would be lining up to have babies in exchange for room and board. There wouldn't be a need for Gatherers. If anything, there would be so much competition to get pregnant that the wealthy would be able to pick and choose and run any kind of genetic test they want in order to narrow down the list. The Gatherers would only be needed for dangerous or fatal medical testing--the kind no one would volunteer for. These are all very interesting concepts that I hope are explored in future books.

As the story progressed, I had a lot of difficulty with Rhine. She goes on and on about being free, and, at first, that makes sense. But then we learn more about how Linden's house works, and that Vaughn is the real villain. It's made clear that Rhine will never be harmed because she's too valuable, even though others aren't so lucky. Her reaction to this is to run away instead of trying to help. That's too cowardly for my taste. Nothing else enters her mind, like searching for ways to help the others, or even obtain some freedoms. She's First Wife, which is a position of some power, but she never uses it. It's clear that Linden has no clue where Rhine came from. If he knew she had a brother, would he have let her see him? We don't know, because Rhine never tells him anything. And yet she figures out that he's as much a prisoner as she is. That's common ground for them, and motivation for her to open up and tell him everything about her background. But she doesn't, and we're not given a reason why. A good, solid plot cannot be constructed by leaving a character in the dark for no reason. We need solid motivations for her actions, or else it comes across as contrived.

There was so much I didn't believe in this story, mostly because there were no motivations for anything. Things happened because they were supposed to happen, not because they came out of the story organically. It left me feeling frustrated and unsatisfied, and I wish we had a better understanding of why the characters did the things they did.

There are no graphic scenes with sex, but sex permeates the story. A thirteen year old girl becomes pregnant, as well, after having sex with a twenty-one year old man. Because of this, I think this is more appropriate for older teens.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AMAZING STORYTELLING, February 24, 2011
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Every now and then, I try reading a new author and hit pay dirt. This was definitely one of those times. This book keep me turning pages until the end and I don't think it gets any better then that when reading.

The opening quote by T.S. Eliot ("This is the way the world ends not with a bang but a whimper.") is a very fitting start to this story of a dystopian future. A future that is not so far away and could happen. The first paragraph is chilling and the author certainly has a way with words ("They keep us in the dark for so long that we lose sense of our eyelids"). Seventy years ago, scientists engineered super embryos that became favored over the old fashioned method of having your own. This was done to help society as the population was decimated by cancer but of course there was a price to pay. The first generation of super embryos were fine but all of their offspring have a life expectancy of 20 (females) to 25 (males). Science running amuck is nothing new and has been done plenty of times before (Logan's Run) but this author succeeds in making it fresh. Our heroine's world is much darker than any Hollywood movie.

I liked how the characters and situations in this story were not simply good or bad but various shades of grey. Housemaster Vaughn is a villain but the purpose behind his horrific acts is to find a cure, an ends justifies the means kind of guy. Even though Rhine was forced to become part of a polygamous lifestyle, she uses Linden to make her own life more comfortable. It was interesting to see how inner morals either bend or break when survival is at stake.

There isn't much of a love triangle between Rhine, Linden and Gabriel in the usual sense but that's a good thing. This book does not follow the usual formula used in popular YA novels a la The Twilight Saga Complete Collection but comes closer to the originality found in Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset. Suzanne Collins' trilogy ranks higher in my view but Lauren DeStefano has made a good start. Although there were some holes, I was drawn into the fictional world created by this author and that takes skill.

The author ends the story on a journey with a hint of what lies ahead. "Wither" is the first book in The Chemical Garden Trilogy and is recommended for 14+ but does deal with polygamy and sexual situations. I would caution adults not to write this book off because it is aimed at the YA set.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Innovative Storyline, but ultimately quite boring, July 31, 2011
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JWSHOPPER (North Carolina) - See all my reviews
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I thought the premise of the story was a great one (a virus that kills girls and boys once they hit a certain age), but the whole plotline was boring as can be. For one, we never find out much about the virus and we never learn why it hits at a certain age, which is different for girls and boys...because why?? We don't find out and frankly, by the end of the book, I didn't really care. My main issues with this novel were (possible spoiler alert!):

1) The main character - Rhine. I could not stand her. She was so wishy-washy and weak when it came to her feelings about Linden and the pseudo-romance between her and Gabriel seemed very forced. I didn't feel like he was a strong character at all. He was just kind of there, like a part of the wall or something. Especially when she's halfway fawning over Linden, who actually had some depth to him. And she's the one that made Gabriel go with her to escape. He would have preferred to stay there, which was not attractive in my book. Frankly, I would have made Jenna the main character - she had a lot more spitfire and gumption than Rhine seemed to have. When she died, I about put the book down for good.

2) The brother. We heard a lot about him in the beginning and then he was just kind of forgotten. If Rhine was so close to him, why did we not see more of her possibly trying to get a message to him or something more drastic or here's an idea - how about asking Linden to bring him to the mansion? She was supposedly his favorite, so why not try for some favors? Rhine had ample attempts to make friends at the parties she went to - why not make a friend with another wife and try to get some scheming going on to get out of their predicaments? There was never any sense of "urgency" about the plot. I found myself putting the book down again and again, because every chapter was the same old stuff happening at the mansion.

3) Linden's father. He wasn't scary and wasn't a great villain. I couldn't quite figure out what was soooo scary about his laboratory except for the fact that he was dissecting Rose and other virus-plagued people after they died? Gross, yes, but not hugely evil. I suppose more of that will come in Book 2, but I don't think I'll be picking that up.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of room for improvement, December 10, 2011
This review is from: Wither (Chemical Garden) (Paperback)
In a post-apocalyptic world in which men only live to the age of 25 and women to 20, Rhine is kidnapped and forced to be one of Linden Ashby's brides. She spends the book getting to know Linden and her sister-wives, an attendant name Gabriel (who she predictably falls in love with), and plotting her escape.

The writing is great, but the characterization (which was somewhat inconsistent), pacing, and world-building could definitely have used improvement. Despite the happy ending, it is nonetheless unsatisfying. I understand this is the first book in the series, but every book in a series should have its own plot and its own closure, otherwise there's no point to making it a series and not just one long book.

The pacing was slow, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in a book with a primarily psychological plot, but there just isn't enough going on to warrant it in a book so long. If some scenes had been removed and things had been tightened up, I don't think I would have had such an issue with it.

The world-building is lacking. DeStefano seems to have come up with a good idea for a story and didn't do all the legwork necessary to build a believable world around it. There are plenty of details that don't make a lot of sense or are ignored completely.

My biggest issue with Wither was that, for whatever reason, Rhine never told Linden the truth about how she was brought to him even though it would have turned Linden against his evil father, Vaughn. There was no reason for her to keep that secret at all, and to reveal it would actually have helped her. That did not make any sense.

I do like DeStefano's writing style, however. It's nice to see a YA author who can actually write and doesn't use a ton of cheap stylistic tricks and cliches to get the job done. I also enjoyed that she kept Rhine's character consistent where romance was concerned rather than making an exception for an obligatory love triangle. Vaughn's villainy was also suitably creepy and not overly forced. The novel is written with subtlety in mind, which in YA today is rather unusual, and I appreciate her effort.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, July 14, 2011
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I don't understand all the good reviews. This is a dystopian book. The world that the author created is both interesting and terrifying, so it was very disappointing, when within the first 10 pages, the main character was taken out of the dystopian world and put into a perfect one.

That wasn't all that annoyed me. There are groups of men that go around, kidnapping women to either sell into a polygamous marriage, sell into prostitution, or just kill. The whole purpose of this is reproduction. So why don't they just pay teenage girls to have children before they die? Why not try test tube babies? I mean, if science was able to create "perfect" offspring, why wasn't it able to create test tube babies? And what's the point of killing the women that aren't chosen to be sold into polygamous marriages?

I was very very excited about this book, but I had to force myself to read it just so I could finish it and be done with it. And the way it ends leaves me no desire to read the rest of the trilogy.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Terrible science and odd worldbuilding, April 25, 2012
This review is from: Wither (Chemical Garden) (Paperback)
WITHER by Lauren DeStefano showed up at my house unexpectedly. I was ridiculously excited and started it immediately. A number of bloggers that I respect reviewed it well. I could soon see why they were enamored. Rhine has been married to Linden, a rich young man. However, she does not love him and was kidnapped from her home with her brother. She wants to return to her previous life, before she dies in four years. There's a strong emotional core to the story. And it's a good story.

But the premise is awful. Men die at twenty-five and women at twenty, due to genetic engineering. Yep, an entire generation was modified at once and they all die at exactly the same ages. If the science wasn't ludicrous enough, people react in strange ways. There are still older generations alive to keep things running. But Rhine's generation isn't going to school and going into research science and medicine. Nope, society totally collapsed and it's all rich guys marrying pretty girls. (Lots of women get killed. Why, if you want to propagate the species, would you kill women left and right?)

So, over a month later, I still haven't finished WITHER. I can see why others find it compelling, but the story can't overcome the premise, for me. Lauren DeStefano invests energy into the setting. It is the Chemical Garden trilogy, after all. Normally I would love that emphasis on setting. But in this instance, it kept forcing me to confront my issues with WITHER. I'm too interested in genetics to let it roll off.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Such a let down!!! :(, September 14, 2012
This review is from: Wither (Chemical Garden) (Paperback)
This book is hard to review. I have been hearing about it for a while now... but now Im just not sure whether I liked it or not.

The beginning (first chapter) was great, I was immediately interested in what the world was like and what was going to happen. But then it stopped. The story dragged and dragged forever, and I constantly kept waiting for something to happen.

I didn't really like the way the story was told. I felt like I could never connect with Rhine. I didn't really care about her at all. At the beginning, her fear was tangible and real, then nothing she said/felt mattered to me anymore. As far as the sister wives, I loved watching their relationship with each other grow. That was done really well. But that's it. I really didn't like Cecily. Jenna was ok, and had a little more depth to her. But I didn't really like any of the sister wives.

However, I really just couldn't stand Rhine at all. She kept saying she wanted to be free. But what point was there to being free. She was safe, and treated well, and it was terrible where she was. She even started caring about Lindin (who wasn't really the bad guy- his father Vaughn was) and yeah- I would get not wanting to be around Vaughn, but how great is the world outside of this mansion?? Not to mention-
there is NO growth for Lindin. He is a dumb man, who is kept sheltered because of his father. But he is weak, has no backbone and gets to have 3 wives he gets to sleep with whenever he wants. I have no sympathy for him and really cannot stand him at all.

No man is alive past the age of 25, and no woman past the age of 20. Like... what DOES the world outside have to offer?? Freedom? No. Hunger, no shelter, nowhere to go. No safety. All things she had at the mansion.

Not to mention- what's up with this virus?? It's a virus that makes everyone die young? Sounds so implausible. Why not explain it more. How is it affecting the rest of the world? Not to mention- if there is hunger and its such a terrible world, why not go and be a wife of a rich man? What harm is there? You don't have much of a life anyways. I would get wanting to run away from gatherers who would do experiments on you... but men who just want you to marry a wealthy man?? Not that bad.

Also... the whole love story between Rhine and the servant boy, Gabriel, was hardly even a love story. They have hardly any interaction and we don't get to see them actually fall in love? But really... how could anyone in that situation?

Overall, the entire story left me frustrated and unsatisfied. I wanted more. I wanted more explanation, more character development. Actually... I don't want more. I don't even like the story line. I don't like the idea of sister wives or making babies that you know will die before really even living. I didn't like any of the characters... Where is the hope in this story? If everyone dies and there is nothing you can do about it... whats the point?

Rating: 2 Stars - because though I really didn't like it, it was well written and I did finish it.

Review by Mrs. Jones at [...]
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment of the Year, March 3, 2012
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Why did I decide to read this book? Well, because everyone else was reading it. Not a very good reason, but I also found the cover attractive, so I decided to pre-order as soon as possible. When I got my copy I was so happy, just racing to finish it. I was on the edge of my seat ready to read what awesome adventure awaited within the pages.

As I was reading, slowly the excitement died away and disappointment set in. I'm in love with science fiction, especially dystopia, so I knew that this would be a good one for me to read, because the concept was so original and fresh. But, I was asking more questions and getting less answers and left completely baffled in a lot of sections.

My questions were typically: If children were so important, why do they live homeless? And than came the obvious question: What would be the point of polygamy? In any society there should always be more girl's to guy ratio, don't ask why, that's just how it is.

And something else about the society that bothered me greatly is that they would not be able to survive. I don't know how futuristic we're talking about but there's one thing I learned well in AP Human Geography and it's that international trade has to exist for a society to thrive. Now some could argue with me, "Well the Hunger Games didn't have international trade!" And I would tell you is, "How do you know?" In that novel we never got a hint on what happened to the other countries but there must have been some connection, but here the author plainly said only the U.S. survived and I find that alone unrealistic. But the point of the matter is that for a society to survive it needs to trade. The U.S. does not have an abundance of raw materials or certain things that we have grown comfortable in using. Now, I'm trying to give Lauren the benefit of the doubt and think that maybe other countries have survived but the government talked these people into thinking they were lucky to be alive.

I also wished that Lauren had gone into what the government's role in this society is. Obviously they don't have good programs to tend to children, awful scientist, and they don't seem to regulate anything! The human race is apparently dying out and yet they kill people (and those who read the book would know what part I mean).

Now, on to the characters. Okay, Rhine just made me mad. I understand that she really wants to get back to her brother and be with him, but I don't think she knows what she's doing, especially with the way it ended. I felt like she was acting on impulse a lot, and impulse just makes you stupid. I didn't feel like she knew exactly what she was doing. She had one thing in mind and yet you can see how her feelings to her husband shifts greatly near the end. And you want to feel bad for these characters but they are just so naive!

Cecily made me want to rip my hair, but you felt bad for her because she is so young and naive and just doesn't get it! Concerning this one there was a moment where I broke down in tears (and for those who read it you may know what I mean) but at the same time I felt disgusted because she just doesn't get it! This could be very normal for this society, and I accept that, but if Lauren had been gracious enough to throw a character in here who actually knew what was going on this would have been a great reliever, because if the character's don't know what's going on than the reader doesn't know what's going on and there were moment's that I was just like: What are they trying to say?! And really, Cecily she is the youngest of the wives, but she is just too childish, too selfish, too much of everything, and I was annoyed with her more than anything.

Jenna was the most pathetic of it all. Throughout the whole book she says that she hates her husband and doesn't want anything to do with him and yet she sleeps with him every night! At least I can give Rhine a break in the fact that she didn't, but Jenna talks about survival and wanting to get out, but she does nothing but sit and feel sorry for herself. And you understand why, but at the same time is like she needs to pull it together.

And finally the husband. Okay, so you think he's this guy in the beginning who takes girl's as young as thirteen to be his wife, but at the same time you have to realize that he's just another pawn in this strange game of chess. You almost get the feeling that he does love Rhine and she him, but again Rhine is, in my opinion, clueless. And as well as him. He's lived in his house all his life and he never put point A and point B together. It's like these people have been programmed. They don't feel real.

Throughout the whole novel I just kept asking myself: WHY DON'T YOU GET IT? And really, I don't know if I want to read Fever if it's going to be anything like Wither.

I was not impressed, I was disappointed, I was aggravated, I was confused, I was stressed. I would not pick this book up again. I'm giving it a 2 because dispute the confusion Lauren DeStefano can write beautifully. She describes everything in vivid detail, but no matter how much detail she uses the novel just could not come alive for me. You know there's potential in this book but it isn't presented very well at all.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Polygamy + Dystopia + Flowers in the Atic = a story that actually works, March 5, 2011
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S. Power (Austin, Texas, United States) - See all my reviews
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Wither by Lauren Destefano follows Rhyne who is stolen from her home and sold to be a polygamist wife in a dystopian society where girls only live to the age of 20 and guys only live to be 25. Rhyne and her fellow sister wives live a life of luxury but are prisoners of the estate. So it's basically Flowers in the Attic (without the crazy grandmother or the incest) with polygamy set in a dystopia. Rhyne's husband is sweet and kind and by pretending to like him she is granted every luxury (except her freedom) however she has fallen for one of her servants and wants more than anything to escape so she can be reunited with the twin brother she was taken from.

I had some issues with the dystopian world which didn't ring plausible to me. The world outside the mansion was told to be both terrifying and totally normal at the same time and the virus that killed everyone in their youth was also not working for me the way it was written.

However, despite my problems with the dystopia (and the books totally predictable ending that is the same as every other dystopian romance that's come out in the last six months) I found myself engrossed in this book and it's characters which really made the story work. Rhyne is both conflicted in her feelings for her husband and determined to escape. Her sister wives one who is angry yet resigned and the other who is very young, happy and newly spoiled in her new life are a nice contrast to Rhyne's views. Her husband is naive but kind, never doing anything physically that makes Rhyne uncomfortable. Housemaster Vaughn, Rhyne's father in law is creepy and evil and the servants are kind. It's these complex characters and their relationships that make the book interesting.

Appropriateness: There's a little sex talk (and the other wives do have sex with their husband) but no actual sex by the main character and a little drinking. This is not a light and fluffy YA book or one with a lot of action. I would put the interest level at 14+ however the book is not inappropriate for a younger reader who is a fan of the dystopian genre.
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Wither (Chemical Garden)
Wither (Chemical Garden) by Lauren DeStefano (Paperback - December 6, 2011)
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