A Pleasant Surprise – “Wither” by Lauren DeStefano
When I think of young adult literature, “Wither” is not the book that comes to mind. I was sent a review copy of this book – the first in the new The Chemical Garden trilogy – and admittedly, thought the cover looked a little “Twilight-y.” (Does all YA literature these days have to be dark? Are young adults really only interested in vampires and the dark side of things? Really?)
Anyway, lesson learned.
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.
“Wither” is the kind of book you can’t put down. It’s a delicious read that keeps you sucked in from the first page.
In this nearly post-apocalyptic world, humans have messed with genetic engineering so much that girls now only live until age twenty and boys until age twenty-five. A business has risen up in which wealthy men buy beautiful young girls to make their wives, and produce children with the aim of saving the human race through only breeding the best and most “perfect.” Sixteen year old Rhine is abducted, held in captivity, and then chosen/sold as one of three girls to become brides to a rich young man named Linden. Rhine enters Linden’s world of fantasy and riches, but never stops thinking of how to escape back to her twin brother who has no idea what happened to her.
Rhine is a likable narrator – though the reader is a tad overwhelmed by all the description of how marvelously pretty she is. I suppose that’s a serious plot point, but it’s a tad overdone. However, Rhine is more than just pretty. She’s smart, motivated, and constantly taking in the events happening around her. While her sister wives, Cecily and Jenna, soon make peace with their station, Rhine is constantly on the mental move in a quest for information about the things happening in the house and ways to escape.
Lauren DeStefano is a good writer. She’s made a very smart move to write Linden as a sympathetic, even likable, character. If Rhine’s husband not-by-choice were ugly and rude, it would be too easy to hate him and think the whole situation just awful. Instead, he’s an attractive, sweet, attentive husband to these three girls, giving them everything they want and even expressing genuine affection for them. In another world, free to choose for herself, Rhine could easily love him. However, Rhine’s affection belongs to Gabriel, one of the house servants. As they’re both trapped in the estate not of their own free will, they form a quick bond.
The book (first in a series, remember) ends with Rhine and Gabriel breaking free and sailing away on a boat. I have a hard time believing DeStefano spent all this time writing this house full of interesting characters only to never deal with them again, so I’m presuming either Rhine gets re-captured or otherwise somehow winds up back in the house. Linden, Cecily, and Rhine’s domestic Deidre are all characters I, as a reader, would miss if they were simply gone foever.
I’ll be eagerly awaiting the second book in this series. Which is not something I expected to be writing when I first picked up the book. Well done, Lauren DeStefano.