Wither is one of those books that originally caught my attention as I was skimming the 2011 debut books, and since then I keep on hearing nothing but good things about it. I could not resist buying the Kindle version, and I finally had a chance to read it.
In the dystopian novel Rhine's reality is completely different than today as the society is divided between "first generations" and everyone else after scientists attempted to use genetic engineering to relieve humans of illness. While it seemed to work with the first generation, who live long, long lives, their children all start to contract a disease and die at age 20 for females and age 25 for males. Scientists are in a flurry to find an antidote and save their children and grandchildren, while also trying to encourage (sometimes force) them to have babies at a young age in order to ensure the continuation of the human race.
The disasters brought on by this scenario cause many societal issues, such as poverty and a high number of orphans (since their parents die when they are very young). Rhine and her twin brother were fortunate enough to be children of "first generations", but when tragedy strikes, they fend for themselves and struggle to support each other. Unfortunately one of Rhine's attempts to earn some extra money ends up being a trap and she is abducted to become the wife of a rich first generation's son in Florida. Trapped in the mansion, Rhine lives through many horrors as well as conflicting emotions. Though she is held captive, she often surprises herself with emotions toward her "husband". And then there's the servant Gabriel who provides solace in such miserable circumstances.
As if that was not enough, the complexities of the society also involve polygamous marriages so Rhine not only watches her husband's first wife die from the disease, but two other young girls were also abducted with her and get married on the same day to a man they have barely met!
Filled with danger, suspense, confusion, and at times hope, the array of characters provide for many layers and dimensions. I read with my stomach in knots wondering what was going to happen next to the various characters.
One aspect of Kindle editions is that I often don't get a good look at the cover. When I was just looking at it on-line, I noticed how it said, "A Chemical Garden Trilogy". When I was reading it, I had not realized it was part of a trilogy. Now, I am so excited that I will be able to read more about the story. Though there was a good sense of resolution to this book (albeit more on the open side of a satisfying conclusion), and it could have been a stand alone, I am thrilled that there will be more because there is plenty that I was wondering about still! So many possibilities for twists and turns in the plot.
This book fits in well with so many other books I have been reading in 2011, not in the sense that it is very similar because it is definitely unique, but because different aspects complement other books. For example, the onset of a new disease, resulting in a shifting role for young women reminds me of another 2011 debut, Bumped, while the aspects of the negative impact of experimenting too much with humans relates to The Gardener. Rhine's unique eyes remind me of Willow's in Crush Control. The polygamy and manipulation aspects tie in with Family. Just like Drought, it has a suspenseful romance. So many interesting connections and layers for discussion.
Lauren DeSteno's debut is definitely gripping, and I cannot wait for more. I just had to look around on the author's site to see if it had any mentions of when to expect the second, and it looks like it will be out in February of 2012 - what a treat!
*Book 8/12 for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge