Saturday, April 14, 2012

Review of The Chemical Garden #1 WITHER by Lauren DeStefano

Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Young Adult ; Science Fiction ; Dystopia ( 358 pgs)
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

In this futuristic dark and somber young adult fiction, females only live to the age of twenty and men to the age of twenty-five.  Cursed by a virus which has no antidote, the fate of humanity is on the brink of extinction.  As a result, Gatherers kidnap young girls and force them into polygamous marriages.  Rhine, the main character, finds herself in such a situation when she is taken to marry House Governor Linden, one among the four new wives.  In parallel, there is a also a race for science to find a fix for this virus which claims the lives of people so early in life.

By 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? (GoodReads Wither)

After hearing so much about this book, and after reading so many reviews online, this dystopia had to be read.  Entering into it, there was a slight worry.  The beginning is a bit strange and boring.  In comparison to all the praise the book had gotten, the feeling of dissapointment was slowly seeping in.  Page by page, though, the book began to take on a surprising form, indeed a vision by DeStefano that everyone had been talking about.  Throughout the whole book there is a sense that Lauren DeStefano is truly a visionary.  It is definitely a book that grows on you, and takes you on a journey you maybe never expected. Nonetheless, there are moments in the book when you feel the temptation to skip a few pages since there is a bit of redundancy.

There is something unique about the word choices for this book.  Words like 'burrowed,' 'sullied,' ' quells,' 'foraging,' 'wilted,' 'succumb,' 'protrude,' ' crumple,' are among the few to set the setting into this gothic and dark vision that DeStefano intended. The tone of the novel is reminiscent a little bit of old classics.  Very smart choice of language. Yet, the novel fell short. Lot of reviews claim this young-adult piece of fiction to take the reader through a lot of imagery that DeStephano so cleverly creates.  Far from it, it felt like the journey was more through thoughts and feelings rather than imagery.

It would have made for even a better book, possibly, if the subject of genetics and science was more thoroughly carried out.  This was the highlight of scientific bacground.

"Seventy years ago science perfected the art of children.  There were complete cures for an epidemic known as cancer, a disease that could affect any part of the body and that used to claim millions of lives.  Immune system boosts given to the new-generation children eradicated allergies and seasonal ailments, and even protected against sexually contracted viruses.  Flawed natural children ceased to be conceived in favor of this new technology.  A generation of perfectly engineered embryos assured a healthy, sucessful population.  Most of that generation is still alive, approaching old age gracefully.  They are fearless first generation, practically immortal.

No one could ever have anticipated the horrible aftermath of such a sturdy generation of children.  While the first generation did, and still does, thrive, something went wrong with their children, and their children's children."

Fantastic premise.  Why not elaborate on why that happened?  Why is there no antidote?  What has been tried and how has it failed?  The story just gets worse and worse and plenty of questions get left unanswered. While the book is unique in its vision, style, and tone, it falls short quite a few ways.  I hope the next in the series will give more to chew on this subject.

Why you should read this book:  If you are a fan of young adult books, this is definitely one you don't want to miss.  It's quite a unique vision for a dystopia, but be aware that you might feel some dissapointment with it.  Chance also are that you might be completely taken by it.  You will either love it or be seriously ambiguous about it.

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