"Wither" by Lauren DeStefano [PG Review]

 Book Review of Wither by Lauren Destefano

{This is a Parental Guidance review, and contains spoilers} 

Seventy years ago science perfected the art of children. There were complete cures for an epidemic known as cancer. . . immune system boosted. . . eradicated allergies. . . Flawed natural children ceased to be conceived in favor of this new technology. (p. 8 of Wither)

Many fictional dystopian societies are rooted in science-gone-wrong, and genetic manipulation tops the list of ways that science tries and fails to perfect humanity.

In Wither, the results are a world in which the life span of males is 25 and only 20 for women. Desperate attempts to preserve the future of the human race include males of the first generation taking multiple young brides to bear children until an antidote can be found.

It is always interesting to contemplate how our society would react to an apocalypse, whether it's an asteroid, F5 tornadoes, aliens, or zombies. Wither provides some food for thought about genetic engineering and the possible ramifications of the pursuit of the eradication of serious diseases as well as minor health issues. There isn't a pill bottle in the pharmacy that doesn't list warnings and side effects, and any medical procedures has its risks. Wither explores one such unexpected consequence of pushing medical science to its limits and beyond.

Synopsis of Wither

Rhine is abducted at 16 years old to become a bride. She is taken to a mansion and forced to marry Governor Linden. She wants to hate him, but he seems almost as innocent as she is. She finds herself bonding with her two sister brides, Jenna and Cecily. The servants are kind and try very hard to please her, bringing her everything she wants. Rhine connects with one servant in particular, a young man named Gabriel, who becomes a very close friend.

However, no matter how posh Rhine's life now is and how many reasons she has to stay, she is still a prisoner and her goal is to escape and reunite with her brother Rowan.

By Lauren DeStefano


Rhine as a protagonist who keeps her head together, and even though she is in dire straits herself, she comforts and cares for those around her. She is particularly motherly as well as sisterly to the other wives in a situation that is intolerable.

As soon as I realized the story was going to involve child brides in polygamous marriages, I kept waiting for the story to get icky. Thankfully, there were no explicit scenes, and the odd solution for the world's problems, while not condemned, was not expressed in sympathetic terms.

Rhine's character, as well as that of the sister brides, was satisfyingly fleshed out. Others, such as Governor Linden, Gabriel and Deirdre (servants), and Rhine's brother Rowan had tremendous potential, but felt more like props than people. The budding romance was a minor subplot, with the relationship between the sister brides being the focus of the story.

Overall this novel is well written, although a bit simplistic. The intellectual challenge is contained in the premise, not the language.

Sensitive, Objectionable or Mature Content

By Lauren DeStefano
  • Death, violence and gore: This story is permeated with the subject of death, especially the death of young people. Young women are kidnapped, sorted out for their potential as brides, and the ones not chosen are murdered. One of the sister wives dies a painful and gross death. A birthing scene also contains a significant amount of detail.

  • Sexual situations/references: While there are no explicit scenes, the obvious is clearly implied--older men are going to have sex with young women in an attempt to propagate the species. The girls know what is in store for them, so some embrace it while others dread it. One girl acts a bit odd and sore after her first night with her husband, and Rhine sees some blood on the sheets. Sexual tension is conveyed in phrases such as " a wave of heat rushes up between my thighs". There are mild sexual advances and some passionate smoochies toward the end of the book.

  • There were no obscenities, profanities, or religious references.

Wither is the first book in the Chemical Garden Trilogy, and Rhine's story is continued in Fever.

You can check out the author's blog or read interviews with Lauren DeStefano at these blogs:

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