My Thoughts On: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Posted February 11, 2012 by Asheley in Uncategorized / 23 Comments

Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy #1) 
by Lauren DeStefano
Published by 
Simon & Schuster 

Children’s Publishing
Publish Date:  March 22, 2011

358 Pages
My Source:  Bought

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? -(summary from
Wither by Lauren DeStefano 
My ThoughtsLet me see if I can form coherent thoughts on how much I love this book: I finished it weeks ago and I’m still turning it over and over in my head. I love a good dystopian book but I haven’t read one yet quite like this. Lauren DeStefano has somehow managed to beautifully create a horrifying world, a world so scarily possible. I can’t believe how excellent this book is. 
Trust me, read this book. For these reasons

1.  Rhine Ellery. Possibly the strongest YA female protagonist I’ve ever read. Rhine is kidnapped one day by the men in gray, the Gatherers, and taken far away, lined up, and chosen to become one of three brides to young Linden Ashby. The rest of the unfortunate van full of kidnapped girls are placed back in the van and immediately shot. Despite becoming wealthy and prominent in her marriage, this event sticks with Rhine throughout the story, and she returns to this memory often to remind her where she came from was taken from and that she wants to get back there as soon as possible, no matter what. Rhine becomes Rhine Ashby, sister wife to Jenna and Cecily. Rhine is smart, quick-witted, and beautiful – and she decides to use these things to help her gain her freedom so she can be once again reunited with her twin brother Rowan. 

I found myself so deeply and emotionally connected to Rhine and her story even though I found myself gasping and physically shuddering at the things she endured. Rhine was a strong character from the first pages – and this was incredibly obvious – but as I read further I marveled at her continued character growth and development. This smart girl only became smarter. Strong in the beginning, Rhine became even stronger at the end. Fierce and absolutely amazing, this gal will stick with me for a very long time. 

2. Other Characters. Just so we’re clear, EVERY character in this book is marvelous. The good ones are very good and the bad ones are absolutely horrid. For those of us who love developed characters, this book is a real GEM. 

  • The Sister Wives:  Jenna & Cecily. Jenna is an 18 year old with a mysterious past and Cecily is a 13 year old orphan who is eager to please. Jenna is quite rigid and a bit icy in her new environment, but Cecily embraces her new role and all that comes with it wholeheartedly. There is such a huge contrast between these two, and in the beginning I had opinions of them that were very strong (I didn’t really like one of them), but I soon grew to love them both because they are so well-developed and had such remarkable back stories. So well-written, I felt like I knew them like my own sisters. 
  • Linden Ashby. Governor of the mansion and widower of his true love, Rose. Linden never really comes to terms with Rose’s death, but marries three new wives anyway for breeding purposes. Despite immediately impregnating Cecily (the young one), Linden forms a special bond with Rhine – he really does genuinely love her. I was torn at times about how I felt about Linden: often I wanted to hate him but had a tough time doing so. Rhine felt the same way; she found herself liking him even though she tried to remind herself constantly of the reasons why she shouldn’t. THIS character is one that is so confusing, you just spin. You never really can figure out if you like him or not – or rather, if you SHOULD like him or not – and that is another reason this book is so spectacular. 
  • Vaughn. Linden’s father; an area physician studying the virus. This man is so evil, he makes me shake with nausea. The things he does, the things he says, the things he implies are so despicable, so deplorable, so unthinkable…as much as I hate to say it, THIS character is one of the best things about this series. He is so utterly…just…bad. Great villain
  • Gabriel. House servant and Rhine’s friend. Gabriel shows kindness to Rhine that soon turns into a crush, which soon turns into love. Gabriel is the character in the book that makes you sigh. He is treated poorly, as you would expect for a house servant, but he owns Rhine’s heart – he is all she can think about for much of this book. Another wonderfully written character, Gabriel is mistreated and knows that the way they all live is wrong, but he doesn’t know any better because he knows nothing of freedom. Because he has no taste of freedom, no memory of any different sort of life, he doesn’t dream of escape or seek to live differently. THIS makes for very interesting reading when he and Rhine begin to have those deep, whispered friend-conversations. Love him
3. The Story. The deal behind this story is that about seventy years earlier, things like cancer and allergies and such were eliminated and cured. For a while, things were great and people lived healthier. But then, young people began to die. It was discovered that girls would live to a full age of 20 before dying, and boys would live a full life of 25 years. Death would result from a virus, of which there was no cure. Because of this drastic drop in life span, girls began being kidnapped by Gatherers and sold for breeding…most of these girls were as young as 13 years old. Those who were not bought were sold as prostitutes or killed. 

THIS is the reality of this particular dystopian society, and it is sickening and disgusting. But it made for a stellar story and an incredible basis for this book. This premise is definitely one to make you think about several different things, particular if you are a mother of young girls, or if you are a person reading over the age of 20 (and you realize you wouldn’t be alive to read this story if you lived in this society). 

4. The Language. I am amazed that this is Lauren DeStefano’s debut novel because it is as eloquently written as a novel by a seasoned author. Wither was such a sensory experience; the imagery was amazing. There was great attention to detail, but it was never overdone. I was able to visualize exactly the ornate furnishings of the home, the clothing down to the accessories, and almost the exact layout of the gardens. I felt like I could hear Cecily playing her piano and shouting at the house servants; I could feel my heart heavy with burden for Jenna and her story, and I felt every emotion and sense possible throughout the story whenever Rhine was anywhere near the page. Not often do I read such a stark and bleak story with such a beautiful language, but this was one of those times. 

5. The World-Building. There is a little bit of world-building in Wither, but I have to be honest and say that the majority of the world that is built is the world existing inside of the mansion. I am a sucker for an excellent world, and I have a sneaking suspicion that there may be a bigger world to build in the following installments in this trilogy. I enjoyed the world inside of the house, but I’m hoping for bigger world-building in this bleak world outside of the mansion and gardens when I read Fever (book two).

6. The Ending. I loved the ending! I knew going into this book that there was going to be another book following it, so I knew it would continue. But there was no cliffhanger and it could potentially be read as a standalone if a reader is so inclined. There is an excellent basis to build on for the next book, and I can’t wait to see where things go. 

7. The Cover. No explanation necessary. But I will go a step further and say that the designers carried the beauty of design into the inside of the book as well as on the cover. One of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen. So striking, I kept closing my book to take a glance at it while I was reading. 

Wither completely lived up to the hype and buzz. It was beautiful. But it was also terrifying and shocking and unnerving. I was angry and sad and happy and confused and exhausted from all of these emotions. How on earth did Lauren DeStefano do this? 

I’m left with so many things to say about this book and I still feel like I’m not able to say anything without babbling. Friends, it’s been WEEKS since I’ve closed this book. I want to talk to someone about the relationships Rhine had with her sister-wives and with Linden and with Gabriel. I want to talk about how she desperately longs for freedom so she can find her beloved brother, her twin, her other half – without him, she is incomplete! I want to talk about the way she has everything in the world at her fingertips – custom designed clothing, servants at her beck and call, books, pools, beautiful gardens – but without freedom or choice, it means nothing to her. I want to talk about how I wanted to scream through the book when I could see things that she didn’t know about. There are so many things in this book that make it worthy of reading and then worthy of discussion…

I’m blown away at the detail, the imagery, the beauty in the words and on the pages. I’m amazed that this book sat on my shelf for so long without me reading it. I’m hurt for the characters on the pages, even though they aren’t real. I’m scared that this world could really exist. I’m extra contemplative now because I read this completely fiction YA dystopian book but I’m a mother of girls and it makes me think extra hard about everything concerning them. 

Friends, if you haven’t read this book yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? It is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, possibly ever. It’ll be with me for a long time. If you love dystopian, read it. If you love an evil villain, read it. If you love a strong female protagonist, read it. If you love beautiful language, read it. There are some very mature themes inside, though, so Wither would be best read by the older YA and YA-loving adult audiences. 

Wither will appeal to fans of

Dystopian Genre
Beautiful, Almost Poetic, Prose
Strong, Well-Developed Characters
(main characters and secondary characters)
Slowly Developing Friendship-to-Romance
Character-Driven stories 
Stunningly Beautiful Covers 
(that completely tie into the story!)

Wither by Lauren DeStefano is currently available for purchase.

Stop back tomorrow where I’m hosting a 
for Fever by Lauren DeStefano!


About Asheley

Asheley is a Southern girl. She loves Carolina blue skies, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and NC craft beer. She loves all things history but prefers books over everything.

You can find her somewhere in North Carolina, daydreaming about the ocean.

Find Asheley on Litsy @intothehallofbooks!


23 responses to “My Thoughts On: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

    • Ashley, it is uh-mazing. Make sure you move it up, particularly when Fever comes out. I read Wither and the second I finished Wither, I began Fever. The two bridge seamlessly with no gap. It was a gorgeous experience and I highly recommending doing it that way!

  1. Jac

    I haven't really read much about this book, in fact this may be the first review I actually read. Let me say that I am now captivated and MUST read this book.

    The idea of curing cancer and other nasty diseases but then limiting our lifespan? Sadly – I can see it. I think that's what makes a really good dystopian, that it's possible. And I'm glad to hear that you really attached to Rhine.

    Again, Thanks for the review! I can't wait to read this now.

    -Jac @ For Love and Books

    • Jac, I didn't really know what to expect going into it because I had stayed away from other reviews for the most part. I was BLOWN AWAY. And then I read Fever immediately after and was even more amazed. This series is completely worthy of all of the hype and buzz it generated and I can say wholeheartedly that I am a fan of this author and will be reading her stuff from now on. This series is a MUST-READ.

      It's a GREAT dystopian. And I'm dreadfully, deeply, wholeheartedly attached to Rhine and a few of the other characters.

  2. Wow!! I gander to take a guess that you liked this one…(lol) I really liked this one too when I read it last year, however I had a really hard time with the 13 year old child-bride, to me that was sad……

    Lovely Review!!

    • Yeah, Tina, Cecily's part was a bit hard to swallow, particularly her excitement and willingness to fall into it…but I chalked that up to her age, immaturity, and status as an orphan before becoming one of the sister-wives. She was the one I didn't like at all initially, and I flip-flopped with her, but I have to say she redeemed herself by the end of the book. Have you read Fever yet? Because…WOW. She's in there too…

  3. This has been on my tbr FOREVAH. Thank you for reminding me that it is awesome and that I should read it stat.

    Between awesome secondary characters and a rad dystopian premise, I'm SOLD.

    • Okay, Lisa. I AGAIN was thinking of you when I was reading this and here's why: you will love the villain. He's so awful and I know you tend to love a well-written villain.

      This dystopian premise is truly one of the best I've read, and it is horrifying but written underneath some of the best poetic prose I know. It's a page-turner and unputdownable. You'll love it, I KNOW IT. NOW…

      I read it and the second I finished it – literally the second – I started Fever. The bridge between the two was absolutely seamless, which was a very smart decision for me. So I know that your TBR is off the hook…if you CAN, you might want to wait until you can do these back-to-back for the full effect. Just my friendly unsolicited advice!


  4. Wow, So I have been considering this book on and off for a while now. It’s one of those that I just couldn’t be sure of, but after reading your review I am most certain that I MUST have it. It sounds like the kind of book that I would be all over! Thanks for the great review!

  5. Dude you definitely have a lot of FEELINGS about WITHER. I love that. LOVE it. I'm glad to see someone else who loved Wither as much as I did. I loved the relationship between Rhine and her sister wives. I love viruses like a total weirdo, so yeah loved that aspect. I loved the development between Gabriel and Rhine. I loved the writing.

    This comment is totally becoming a love letter, but seriously, I did love SO MUCH about Wither. 😀

  6. I'm skipping your Fever review! Don't hate me, but I don't think I've read a review for it yet and I want to go into it with a completely clean mind 🙂 Someone is letting me borrow an ARC, I'm excited!

    "gasping and physically shuddering at the things she endured."-I KNOW!

    I know what you mean about the sister wives…

    I couldn't really hate Linden either…

    Just reading the name "Vaughn" gave me the heebie jeebies…ugh. I'm shivering right now, lol.

    I'm curious to read about the world more in Fever…

    Love the review Asheley!

    • I don't hate you for skipping the review, silly! Just hurry and read the book if you can…it's SO GOOD. And oh my gracious VAUGHN IS SO BAD. The world-building in Fever is much different than in Wither…it's just a different book completely. So many differing opinions on it, but I loved it…

      But about Wither…we can agree that it was absolutely amazing. I LOVED Fever, hope you do. 😉

    • SARA! oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh! Read it already!! ASAP. And then get to Fever. Although, my reading experience was totally ENHANCED being able to read them back-to-back. So you may want to wait just a few more days??? I don't know. Either way…SOON, friend. SOON.

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