Sunday, 29 May 2011

Chemical Garden: #1 Wither

The final book before I plunge head-long into the mortal instruments series book 4 happens to be the debut novel by Lauren DeStefano, the first book of her dystopian triology Chemical Garden : #1 Wither, and it is definitely one of a kind, a future of mankind that is all too believable. 

This is how the summary as written on the book’s front flap goes like:

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. When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden’s genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home. But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.

Wither heralds the coming of a promising new voice in young adult dystopian fiction.Wither introduces us to Rhine Ellery, age sixteen, who lives in a world decimated by the results of genetic engineering. In an attempt to render humanity almost immortal and disease-free, scientists accidentally introduced into human DNA a ticking time bomb — all women live only to age twenty and men to age twenty-five. In this world, riddled with brutality and stricken with poverty, girls are married off as young as thirteen and forced to bear children in a desperate attempt to keep humanity ahead of the wave of disease that threatens to eradicate them.
As of recent time there has been an influx of books handling new and old topics in a different, more female-centric way. Part parable, part warning, Wither puts women and girls at the heart of a dystopian tale mixing progress and disempowerment, science and secrecy. After being kidnapped from the home she shares with her twin brother, Rhine is “sold” to a rich man, Linden, along with two other girls, Cecily and Jenna. Their polygamous marriage is seen as necessary, for Linden’s father is a scientist trying to find a cure for the “virus” that strikes down youth, and he needs new subjects for his experiments — subjects in whose DNA, he hopes, a cure can be found.
The opening quote by T.S. Eliot (“This is the way the world ends not with a bang but a whimper.”) is a very fitting start to this story of a dystopian future. A future that is not so far away and could happen. The first paragraph is chilling and the author certainly has a way with words (“They keep us in the dark for so long that we lose sense of our eyelids”). Seventy years ago, scientists engineered super embryos that became favored over the old fashioned method of having your own. This was done to help society as the population was decimated by cancer but of course there was a price to pay. The first generation of super embryos were fine but all of their offspring have a life expectancy of 20 (for females) to 25 (for males). Science running amuck is nothing new and has been done plenty of times before but this author succeeds in making it fresh. Our heroine’s world is much darker in an elegant way than any Hollywood movie. 
The book excels in its chilling depiction of the realities of Rhine’s world, and the writing doesn’t shy away from descriptions about sex and sexuality, the inner workings of the polygamous marriage, and how different people would adapt to the situation. Through its story, the novel also touches on hot issues like assisted reproduction and genetic engineering. Rhine and her two sister-wives, Cecily and Jenna, are sympathetic as characters in their own unique ways. I found their complicated relationships with one another to be the most compelling in the book. The novel also finishes with an ending that can stand on its own, even with the known sequel forthcoming.
I liked how the characters and situations in this story were not simply good or bad but various shades of grey. Housemaster Vaughn is a villain but the purpose behind his horrific acts is to find a cure, an ends justifies the means kind of guy. Even though Rhine was forced to become part of a polygamous lifestyle, she uses Linden (who on a note is kinda a very likable character with his innocence and ignorance of the world) to make her own life more comfortable. It was interesting to see how inner morals either bend or break when survival is at stake.

There isn’t much of a love triangle between Rhine, Linden and Gabriel in the usual sense but that’s a good thing. This book does not follow the usual formula used in popular YA novels a la The Twilight Saga Complete Collection but comes closer to the originality found in Hunger Games Trilogy. Suzanne Collins’ trilogy ranks higher in my view but Lauren DeStefano has made a good start. Although there were some holes, I was drawn into the fictional world created by this author and that takes skill.

The world of Wither frightened me in a deliciously terrifying way. With all the scientific experimentation that happens in today’s day and age, it’s no doubt possible that something similar to this could happen in our world. Scientists tried to create the perfect human race, and while they succeeded in making the “first generations” sturdier and longer-living, every generation of offspring thereafter had one deadly flaw: girls died at 20, boys at 25. Most of the world has been obliterated by this genetic virus that is seemingly incurable, and what’s left of America is fragmented and dangerous to live in. Lauren DeStefano has definitely succeeded in creating a completely unique and scary new world that I would dread living in, but love to read about.

The cover for Wither is really just the icing on top of the superbly made delicious cake. Not only is it gorgeous, but it captures the essence of the novel.
Genre :      Fiction, Young Adult, Dystopia

Publisher Simon & Schuster

Rate:              4/5 (really liked it)


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