3.8 (100,043 ratings by Goodreads)
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What if you knew exactly when you'd die? The first book of The Chemical Garden Trilogy.

By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males born with a lifespan of 25 years, and females a lifespan of 20 years--leaving the world in a state of panic. Geneticists seek a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.

When Rhine is sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Yet her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can't bring herself to hate him as much as she'd like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband's strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement; her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next; and Rhine has no way to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive.

Together with one of Linden's servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?
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Product details

  • 12-17
  • Paperback | 364 pages
  • 142 x 211 x 25mm | 327g
  • New York, NY, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 1442409061
  • 9781442409064
  • 44,887

Review quote

A "harrowing debut . . . DeStefano has an observant and occasionally pitiless eye, chronicling the cruelties, mercies, and inconsistencies of her young characters. . . . It will be intriguing to see how DeStefano develops [the larger world] as this promising trilogy progresses."

- *PW STARRED review, January 10, 2010
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Rating details

100,043 ratings
3.8 out of 5 stars
5 32% (32,011)
4 32% (32,100)
3 23% (23,472)
2 9% (8,592)
1 4% (3,868)

Our customer reviews

I had heard a lot of good reviews about this book, it seemed to be one that had a well-built dystopian world and well developed character. And as I, and apparently most female teenage/ Young adult readers, have now become obsessed with dystopian novels I had to read it. But once again it feels like this book has something missing. I have noticed with a lot of dystopian and fantasy novels nowadays that either the world or the characters are sacrificed to get a story written quickly. With this book I felt like the world was a bit sacrificed. I liked the characters, although they were nothing special and I have now forgotten their names (Note to self: Take notes when reading for review purposes) but I really did not like the world they were set in. It seemed very flimsy. Ok so in order to make sure that the human race was immune to everything we managed to create a race of super humans that have children with an abnormally short lifespan? That makes sense�. Not. But what makes even less sense is in this dystopian world future is the fact that women�s life expectancies are shorter than men�s, when it is currently the other way round. I mean ok I understand that our main protagonist is a teenage girl who doesn�t understand much about genetics but that feels like a bit of an excuse as to why there just isn�t an explanation for things. This world was obviously built around the characters to give the author a way of telling the story she wanted to write, and I have no problem with that, except for the fact that it is blindingly obvious. The world is just badly created. I mean, as if the entire world decided that in one generation they would all have their babies made into the super babies and as if the entirety of the world EXCEPT for the United States ONCE AGAIN GETS DESTROYED. I�m getting a little tired of everywhere but America being wiped off the map. What about Europe, Russia or China, who are all equally capable of fighting back and surviving? If you ignore the fact that the world is ill conceived and concentrate on the characters this story is almost enjoyable, hence the 3 stars, but I got it for cheap on my kindle and would not recommend it to anyone who was going to pay full price. It is just such an easily skippable book.show more
by Iona
I thought this book was very well written. I love the story line and the characters. I think there is a very small variety of emotion from the main character. Her journey and her story in the book is amazing. The idea of what the world has turned into is very cool to think about as you read. Also I became very close to all the characters in the book so I would recommend this book to anyone.show more
by Mary Worley
We are directly thrown into the story of Rhine, who is captured with two other young women, Jenna and Cecily, to please a rich doctor's son, always locked away in a gigantic house surrounded by an even larger garden. There are only a few different characters, nonetheless their possible reactions to each other are always unpredictable. Rhine felt like a very authentic character to me, really easy to get acquainted with. She is not only exceptional in looks, but also differs emotionally from her kidnapped co-brides. I like her name, Rhine, originating from the European river, lets always associations pop up in my head, because I cross this river almost every day, quiet funny. DeStefano has a talent to portray exceptional characters full of contrasts. Rhine and her fellow bride sisters couldn't be more different. Jenna is special for her compassion and loyalty, Cecily for her childish and naïve personality.But beside these innocent young girls, there are also cruel and malicious characters that cause great conflicts. Wither offers many different types of love stories, although the major romance might develop between Rhine and Gabriel. Still that doesn't keep me from analysing other relationships between our given characters and questioning their morals. We get to know our characters very well, relationships are featured, but a general love story comes off badly. I realize that under the given circumstances a grand and romantic love story between Rhine and Gabriel is not really possible or inappropriate and so I hope for deeper insights in their thoughts and feelings in Wither's sequel. All characters are always circling around one setting and the other characters. Over almost the whole novel not much happens and I rather see Wither as a character study, like an initial experiment that has potential to lead to larger events and purposes in its sequel. Probably the action is hold back so that the main focus lies on the characters and the dystopian world. The setting and even actions are limited, the pace is rather slow. Sometimes we get glimpses of Rhine's life back in freedom, how she lived with her twin brother (who has become one of my favourite characters without even meeting him), but that is not enough to still my desire to explore Wither's world. Wither is set in a dystopian world, futuristic... and sick. All its new inventions and beautiful illusions cannot hide the fact that humanity's situation is a sad one. Men only got a life expectation of 25 years, women 20 years. That idea is thrilling, adds urgency to the character's actions and is scary at the same time. I always wondered how the story is supposed to develop with such a limited time span to develop actions, as our protagonist is 16-years-old, she has got four years left till she dies a painful death. Furthermore thinking of all the possibilities for our human race and that I would already be dead in such a world made me really sad. Although DeStefano didn't make me turning page after page restlessly, she had me emotionally involved. Wither's world is a super interesting construct that leaves many possibilities for future events. There is science and medical research involved, really interesting disciplines. No hard violence, sex or drugs are discussed, still this novel felt like a heavy read, because it deals with the social morals of our present society in comparison with Wither's society. Polygamy, kidnapping and stealing from the dead are regular topics. A great part of Wither is about constructing its new futuristic world by establishing several moral and ethical discourses. THE VERDICT I give it 3,5/5 stars. Lauren DeStefano builds a flamboyant world, whose little inventions and conveniences kept me entertained all the time. Wither is a debut with a promising world and striking main character that leaves room for hope for a more action-packed and romance-centred sequel.show more
by MissPageTurner
I was looking forward to reading this book however I was a bit disappointed. The beginning and ending of the book is very good but the middle I found was a little dull, about 3/4 of the way into the book, I lost interest and had it sitting on my bookshelf unfinished for a couple of days. However I willed myself to finally finish it and the ending was interesting enough that I might read "Fever", book 2 of the series. I like the main character Rhine most of the times however at times I found her a little dull and wished that the author had written some chapters from the perspective of another character in the book. It would have been interesting to have some insight into Linden's mind. Overall it was an okay read :)show more
by Atqiya
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