Thursday, April 14, 2011

Haunting Cover for a Haunting Story

Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy)
The cover and design of this book is so unique and so striking you simply can't ignore it. I was so enamored with the design on the cover pages and throughout the book I just thumbed through it for a while before reading it! When I finally did start reading, I realized it was actually as good of a book as it looked. Lauren DeStefano's breakout dystopia Wither is the start of the Chemical Garden Trilogy, and you won't want to stop reading once you hit that last page!

Modern science has cured all those horrible illnesses and defects that affect children. Unfortunately, it only worked for one generation. The generations that follow find themselves with a severely shortened life span before dying an agonizing death. Women live to be 20 and men to 25, and so far there has been no progress in reversing the process. This has caused many first generation people to accept babies as donations for medical experiments to find a cure. More wealthy people have started collecting wives (and usually kidnapping and buying them) in order to have as many babies as possible. This situation has created a world of orphans where young girls are kidnapped and forced to bear children they will never get to raise.

Rhine Ellery and her brother are barely scraping by, but they still do better than most kids their age. They have some food and are able to work enough to stay safe- until Rhine answers an add for work and finds herself in the back of a van with a large group of girls. She has seen other girls in her neighborhood disappear into the hands of the Gatherers, but she never thought it could happen to her. She is tossed from the van where a man makes his decision to keep three of the girls, including Rhine. Once the man leaves, the other girls are put back in the van and disposed of. The three who were chosen and spared are taken to a magnificent estate, but they have no idea where they are. They are brought to a secure wing where they have bedrooms, a sitting room, and a library. This is where Rhine and her sister wives, Jenna and Cecily, are expected to spend the rest of their days, pregnant with Master Linden's babies.

Rhine is 16, Jenna is 18, and Cecily is only 14. Cecily is the only one who is interested in being Linden's wife, as the life in the estate is better than what she experienced in the orphanage. Young and enthusiastic, she vies for Linden's attention. Jenna is the oldest, and while she despises Linden and everything he stands for (he sister was in the van of girls not chosen), she chooses to accept her fate with unwilling concession. Rhine is the only sister wife who wants to escape. She worries about her brother desperately and beings to grow attached to the young man, Gabriel, who delivers food and answers to the wives on the floor. Her feelings for Gabriel are forbidden, but she can't help but care about him.

Her biggest struggle is that she doesn't actually hate Linden. He turns out to just be a clueless, heartbroken boy, much like his new wives. Just after the wives arrive, Linden's previous wife and only true love, Rose, died in the wives wing. He has never really recovered, and only took the new wives at the urging of his father, the evil Vaughn. Vaughn has given his life over to finding the cure that will save his son, but his methods are far less than ethical. He is a horrible, vile man who is afraid to stop at nothing to help his son and find a cure, even if that means sacrificing the lives of the wives. When Vaughn finds out about Rhine's attachment to Gabriel, he takes Gabriel away. Now Rhine must find the boy she truly cares about and find a way out of the estate. But how can she do that when the estate seems like a fortress with no entrance or exit?

I loved so much about this book, it is hard to pick anything specific. The characters were dynamic and had to be peeled away layer by layer like an onion. The characters you thought you would hate turned out to be sad and broken. The ones you thought you would like were flawed. The story takes turns that you would never expect, and the mast villain, Vaughn, is so beyond evil they would have to make a new classification for him right next to Josef Mengele and President Snow of Panem from The Hunger Games. He gives me the creeps just thinking about him. The beauty of this book lies in the fantastic story telling and the haunting but beautifully written prose. This was a difficult topic to broach- forced marriages and kidnapping- but DeStefano accomplished her goal with ease.

The language is moderate, but this might be a book left for mature 9-12 grades. It has tons of discussion opportunities and can make for a great book to read with your child or student. I am thrilled by DeStefano's breakout novel and can't wait for the next book in the trilogy. We are in a stage of the YA world where young people are contributing as much as seasoned authors, and so far, the experience has been amazing! I can't wait to see what they throw out next!

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