Wither is Lauren DeStefano’s promising debut novel and is the first book in The Chemical Gardner Trilogy. In this compelling dystopian novel, DeStefano portrays our world as one that got seriously altered by human genetic engineering. After the first sturdy and super healthy generation, all subsequent generations die at a young age because of an untreatable virus. All women only live to the age of twenty and men to the age of twenty-five. DeStefano creates a quite realistic world, where women are abducted and the “lucky” ones are forced into polygamous marriages to prevent the human race from dying out. The “unlucky” or “undesirable” ones end up in brothels or are killed.
Wither is a character driven novel. DeStefano’s heroine is sixteen-year-old Rhine who becomes one of the three new replacement brides of wealthy Linden, whose first wife has turned twenty and is dying. DeStefano has done a great job crafting the complex relationships between Rhine and her two sister-wives as well as showing how these young women, from different backgrounds, cope with their new life situation. Rhine is a survivor, like Katniss (The Hunger Games), and she will do anything in her power to escape her luxurious prison before her time runs out.
Wither is a captivating and well paced novel. I like that DeStefano has not purposely softened the tone of her story because of the targeted young adult audience. Even though Wither is a part of a trilogy, the ending is quite satisfying and well rounded so the book can be easily read as a standalone novel. The sequel to Wither, Fever, will be published on February 21, 2012. It will be interesting to see how DeStefano will build up the plot after the tremendous start.