I'm back! I still don't have a job (thank you to everyone who sent their well-wishes, I so appreciated it!) but things have quieted down here and I feel I can devote the time to my blog again that I was before. In the next week or so I will be updating the site and opening a couple of giveaways as well as finally giving away the copy of Lauren Conrad Style. And I have so many exciting books to review now. I've been receiving ARCs left and right and here is a review of the first and most brilliant of them for you.
Wither (Chemical Garden #1) by Lauren DeStefano
Release Date: March 22, 2011
Received: December 3, 2010
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Reading level: Young Adult
What if you knew exactly when you would die?
Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.
- from Goodreads.com
First of all, I can't thank the publisher enough for sending this ARC to me. It came out of the blue and completely made my day, nay, year. The last time I did a Waiting on Wednesday it was for this book and I was completely thrilled to be able to review it.
On to the story. I adored it. It's hard to decide where to start with it so I suppose I'll start with my initial reaction to the design which is exquisite. The colors on the cover and the details on each page which tie in to the circled and squared objects on the front of the book are beautiful. They set the theme for a futuristic tale in spite of the fact that the story has an air of Victorian era decadence.
Rhine is a 16-year-old girl and the narrator of the story, who has been sold as one of three new wives to a wealthy man who's first love and current wife is dying. She has an absolutely gorgeous mind from which she describes the richness around her and though not all of that richness is positive it is fully tangible by the time she finishes. Ms. DeStefano has such a way with phrasing that it often made this sci-fantasy sound like literature a la Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte. Such lines as "her sobs crashed like waves around me" simply transported me to the ocean which Rhine is always desperately wishing to see again.
The other characters in the story are distinct and unmuddled as can sometimes happen in a first person narrative because the narrator doesn't know the feelings or thoughts of those around them. But Rhine is so adept at observing, reading, and understanding people that all of the characters spring to life in full color on the pages. Cecily, though a somewhat bratty and precocious 13-year-old sister wife, is lovely as is Jenna, the 18-year-old sister wife, who's lively gray eyes miss nothing and wisdom comes in handy a great deal for Rhine. Housemaster Vaughn, the supposed villain, House Governor (and husband) Linden, Gabriel, the domestics (children bought to serve each sister wife), the kitchen staff, and the party goers all resonate as real people with real feelings, thoughts, and motivations. Ms. DeStefano should be proud of her ability to make each person, however small their role, unique and multi-dimensional. The only small negative I could mention on that front is her lack of characterization of Rowan, Rhine's fraternal twin brother. All we know of him are things Rhine tells us. We don't view him in dialogue in her memories and I felt that caused me to care less about him to the point that I questioned at some places Rhine's dire need to get away from the mansion and her husband. Though, all in all, this is a very minor detail because, like the house staff, I felt Rhine was such a sweet spirit that she should have whatever she wanted.
The story moves and flows fluidly from page to page and I found myself lost in it as though I weren't actually reading but was living there in the mansion with Rhine and her sister wives. A feat for someone like me who has ADD and is easily distracted away from books I want to read! I didn't want the story to end and yet, when it did, I was pleased that Ms. DeStefano wrote it in such a way that it could actually stand alone, though I know it's a trilogy. I could be happy with the ending even if I never get to read the other two books.
I'm not one to cry over books but there was a place in which someone close to Rhine was dying. I knew this person would die and so I prepared myself, being much more attached to the characters in this book than I had with most other books I've read. But when I got to the place, the way in which it was written took the sting out of the sadness and I felt a bit cheated by that. It seemed almost as though Ms. DeStefano couldn't stand the sadness of the situation herself and softened the blow by pulling the full force of the punch. I can forgive her, however, because she caught me so off guard by something else a chapter later that I actually did cry.
This is the best YA book I've read this year and in quite some time. Ms. DeStefano is excellent in her craft and I would follow her into whatever adventure she writes in the future.