Author: Lauren DeStefano
Genre: YA, Dystopia, Post-Apocalyptic
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing
Publishing Date: March 22, 2011
Hardcover: 358 pages
Stand Alone or series: Book one of the Chemical Garden trilogy.
Where did I get this book: Library (as usual)
What if you knew exactly when you would die?Review:
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 limited time she has left.
In the hope of curing all ailments, scientists in the near future found a way to genetically alter embryos in order to create a generation of perfectly healthy children. These children will never have to suffer from cancer or disease. Instead, they're free to live their lives without the fear of tuberculosis or malaria. As an entire generation of perfect children are born, everyone's hopes are high and the future looks bright. But this new generation slowly learn they have to pay a high price for their perfection. As these children grow older and decide to have children, the scientists discover their deadly mistake. Now all children die young. Girls at age 20 and boys at 25 to be exact. 70 years after this fatal genetic tinkering, 16 year-old Rhine is kidnapped and forced into a polygamist marriage that has become routine amongst wealthy families trying to cling on to their dying families. There Rhine will have to decide what matters more: privilege or freedom.
I had a lot of issues with this book from the start. For one, dystopia works because it reflects the scary possibility of horrible things to come. Even if the reader doesn't believe their world could ever turn into the author's vision, there is still a believability that all good dystopians have. Do I think I will ever live to see something like 1984 come to fruition? Of course not. But as a reader I can understand how it could happen. How fear and want for safety can convince people into giving away something sacred: their freedom. In a post 9/11 world this isn't hard for anyone to understand. Dystopia is one of the genres where world building really matters. If an author does a shoddy job then it's hard to connect with the characters because the reader can't accept them as real (in the fictional sense) because the reader can't accept the world they live in as real. And Wither never meets this simple expectation.
Obviously readers are required to have some "suspension of disbelief." It's kind of hard to get into a fantasy book if the reader keeps thinking "magic isn't real." The problem with Wither is while the reader is ready to buy into its premise, DeStefano finds ways to slap that suspension in the face. In the book, DeStefano actually writes "the polar ice caps were vaporized long ago by warfare." Um what?! Even if we ignore all the things a claim like this requires, like actual information or some details, it's kind of hard to take this serious when the story takes place in Manhattan and Florida. Do you have any idea how high the seas would rise? I don't know either, but it's a lot. Enough that Florida would not be around to become some polygamist playground. Even if I'm supposed to believe all the water from the polar caps became vapor and went somewhere so the coasts weren't damaged, the rising temperature of the oceans would still make the water expand. And it would be hell of a lot hotter. I just can't accept this statement at face value. To make matters worse, DeStefano also writes "a third world war demolished all but North America, the continent with the most advanced technology and the damage was so catastrophic that all that remains of the rest of the world is ocean and uninhabitable islands so tiny that they can't even be seen from space." Sweet Jesus. This makes no sense at all. For one, North America is the continent with the most advanced technology? I think not. Also, destroying the continents so only tiny islands exist? Sorry, I don't buy it. Even though the reader is given reason to believe this isn't true, I don't understand how anyone in DeStefano's world would buy into this. If she had said the land was inhabitable, then okay. But totally destroyed while Florida still exists? No way.
Even if you ignore all the science stuff and try to focus just on the story itself, there's still a lot of problems with DeStefano's overall premise. The only thing more unbelievable than vaporized polar caps and yacht parties on Florida's coast is the idea that everyone on the North American continent would have had access to the genetic engineering that made the generation of people whose children die young. There's no way. There are people dying right now because they don't have access to medicine that costs cents. Even if we buy into this idea, DeStefano never gives the reader a compelling reason for why these young people are so obsessed with keeping the population from dying out. There's no sense of a strong sate power that conditions its citizens to be baby making factories so I just can't see why people care so much. I also don't understand why girls are kidnapped. Throughout the story the reader is often told America has a huge orphan problem. This makes sense since people die so young, but it would also stand to reason that there would always be a steady supply of willing and eager wives who want to get out of poverty. So why the kidnapping? DeStefano also doesn't explain why girls who are so valuable they have to be kidnapped would be killed if they weren't chosen by the buyer. It just doesn't make sense. Plus, the original generation is still alive. Why have women lost all power in society?
I know I've rambled on for a while here, but I want to highlight that this book as no explanations for any of these questions. I've seen this book called The Handmaids Tale for YA, but there is simply none of the social or political explanations as with that story. Why are young people sold into slavery? Why do women have no political autonomy? Who maintains this system? Why do men live five years longer then women (especially when women outlive men)? This story would work so much better if only one sex died young. That alone would answer a lot of the questions people are left wondering and explain why women have to be kidnapped. As it is, this story just doesn't make sense.
One more thing, the characters are boring and completely unbelievable. If there had been superb characterizations then maybe I could excuse the major problems I had with the story. We all have books we love that aren't very good. But that's not the case here. All of the characters are too one dimensional. The villain is too villainous. Linden, the husband, is too ignorant. Apparently all kidnappers have to do is draw some pictures and they can start to win over their captives. Is the reader really supposed to feel sympathetic towards a man who refuses to learn anything about the world? If the reader really suppose to quietly accept Rhine's softening towards him? If Linden is so nice then why didn't Rhine just tell him the truth? Rhine is also too bland. There's nothing special about her and yet we're forced with her narration. It also felt like DeStefano was trying to titillate readers with the sexual aspect of young teens in polygamous marriages while also keeping Rhine free from it. And while I'm glad I didn't have to read a rape scene, the lack of Rhine having to face the ugly side of her marriage felt unbelievable to me. Rhine shows more anger towards a teenage girl, who is just as much as a victim, than Linden. It's ridiculous.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
You can read an excerpt here.
The cover is the best thing about this book. Maybe the next two books will get better, but these watered down YA dystopias are driving me crazy. The themes are handled with kid gloves and nothing feels believable.
Rating: 4. Bad, but for some reason I still needed to know what happens in the end