Author: Lauren Destefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 358 pages
Scientists thought they had created perfect humans until a virus began killing successive generations at a young age- girls at 20, boys at 25. Now science is in a war with naturalists and girls are kidnapped and sold on a black market to create new children before they die. Rhine is sixteen when she is stolen from her hard fought life and married to Linden Ashby with two other kidnapped girls. The girls live like sequestered royalty, but Rhine longs to escape, especially as she learns more about Linden’s controlling father who gathers bodies for his experiments to find a cure for the virus. Things become more dangerous as Rhine develops a romantic relationship with a servant, Gabriel, and they plot to escape together.
Many of the other dystopias I’ve read and reviewed here have been action-driven and unputdownable. Wither is much more character-driven and makes the reader think. The question freedom or safety is key, as Rhine must decide whether to stay or escape. Happiness clearly does not lie in safety for Rhine, but she has moments when even the reader is convinced she should stay with Linden and her sister-wives (the other kidnapped girls) and live in caged comfort for her four remaining years. Maybe she could even find happiness there? But then we are reminded of Rhine’s twin brother who she was separated from and longs to be reunited with. So perhaps she should escape, if there’s a way. And so it spirals.
The book gets a little repetitive, because it is mostly Rhine’s though process as she tries to find a way to escape and fights against the allure of safety. Her sister-wives show how each person values life differently, and how time is exceptionally precious, as the elder struggles with mortality and the younger struggles with a new baby.
The tone was quite depressing because it seems there can be no happy ending. I didn’t realize this was the first in a trilogy (The Chemical Garden Trilogy) until I had finished reading, and this book could stand on its own, no trilogy needed. I’m not dying to read the sequel, but probably will at some point (it comes out February 21st).
If you’re looking for a dystopia that makes you think, or struggling with your own battles and need a little reminder of the value of freedom, this is the book for you.