The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither by Lauren DeStefano (2011)

I fall asleep and have horrible dreams of sad girls with exquisite eyes, gray vans erupting with butterflies, windows that won’t open. And everywhere girls, tumbling from trees like orange blossoms and hitting the earth with sickening thuds. They crack open (p 111).

witherIn the future, society is broken into two classes. The First Generations are old but very healthy. They were the first to benefit from genetic engineering – immune to diseases like cancer and other ailments like asthma.

The second class of people are descendants of the First Generations. They are the cursed. Males die at 25. Females at 20. Some of the First Generations experiment on the young trying to find a cure. Others are pro-naturalists, believing humanity is doomed to die out and those who remain should be left to live peacefully.

This has led to an underground market trading in young girls. Sixteen-year-old Rhine is caught by a group of Gatherers and sold to a doctor, Vaughn, bent on finding a cure to the genetic disease that will otherwise claim his son, Linden, who is 21.

Rhine becomes one of Linden’s three wives, desperate to escape the mansion that has become her prison and return to her twin brother in Manhattan, with Gabriel, a house attendant Rhine finds herself increasingly attracted to.

But it won’t be easy with Vaughn constantly watching and with his cold lab in the basement where Rhine can only speculate on what experiments are taking place.


Whither is another dystopia amid an influx of similar works in the wake of The Hunger Games. It’s strength is in its writing, but the setting and some of the story is less stable.


Linden cannot be as ignorant as our narrator would have us believe. That he didn’t notice the other girls were shot when his brides (even in the process of being drugged!) noticed and that he didn’t wonder why the girls were kept like prisoners if they were willing applicants, is absurd. Even if he was ignorant of his own captivity, how could he be so deluded about the rest of the world (of which he has traveled)?

Also, DeStafeno’s version of the future didn’t jive with me either. If the polar ice caps have melted and other countries are undersea, how can Manhattan be above water?

So, all that aside, DeStefano does some good character building. Life inside the Governer’s mansion feels creepy and beautiful. The romance is a little stereotypical but I like that Rhine never seems to completely buy in to either boy.


Clearly, this is the beginning of a trilogy but this one could also stand on its own and I like that too. And I have to hand it to the book’s designer. Very eye catching and pleasing.


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