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Book Review

This science fiction novel by Lauren DeStefano is the first in the "Chemical Garden" series published by Simon & Schuster BFYR, a trademark of Simon & Schuster Inc.

Wither is written for kids ages 14 years and older. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Seventy years ago, scientists created a race of humans nearly impervious to disease. When this generation's children were born, however, the genetic alterations backfired. Suddenly, all males die at age 25, all females at 20. The same thing happens to their children.

Now the wealthy search feverishly for a cure, while the poor endure rampant crime and prostitution. Many young women are kidnapped and sold into polygamous marriages. Their rich husbands use them and their children as experiments to keep the population going. This is how 16-year-old Rhine Ellery becomes a bride.

Rhine finds herself in the back of a van full of girls. She and two others are sent to a lavish mansion to marry 21-year-old Linden Ashby. The other girls are shot.

Under the watchful eye of Vaughn, who is Linden's father, Rhine, a 13-year-old named Cecily and a 19-year-old named Jenna marry Linden. Rhine soon discovers that Vaughn is obsessed with genetic research and that Linden has no idea the brides are in his home against their will. Linden is as much a pawn in his father's schemes as are the girls.

Rhine develops a brief friendship with Lady Rose, Linden's dying 20-year-old wife. The many experimental medications Vaughn gives her only make her death more agonizing. When she passes, Linden is distraught and initially grieves rather than spending time with his new brides. Vaughn's staff, including a male servant Rhine's age named Gabriel, caters to her needs. She and her sister wives, locked on their designated floor of the mansion, read, play games and try to entertain themselves.

Cecily eagerly anticipates all things associated with marriage and childrearing. She reads endless pregnancy books and the Kama Sutra. Her enthusiasm wanes after she gets pregnant and becomes sick. Jenna, who will turn 20 the following year, figures the mansion is as good a place as any to die. She does her wifely sexual duties but remains emotionally distant from Linden.

Linden likes Rhine best. He intends for her to be his "first wife," the one he takes to parties and social events. He often sleeps in Rhine's bed with her but never forces himself on her physically because he knows she doesn't want to be sexually intimate.

Rhine plays along as the first wife, thinking maybe she can escape during one of the events they attend. If any are televised, she hopes her twin brother will see her and know she's alive. Though Rhine hates her circumstances, she still feels bad for Linden. His father has created a false life full of holograms, fake flower gardens and other lies.

Rhine's friendship with Gabriel deepens, until Vaughn banishes him to the basement to work. Gabriel and Rhine know Vaughn conducts unseemly experiments on corpses there, including bodies of dead wives and babies he's told Linden were cremated. When Rhine discovers a way out of the compound, she sneaks down to see Gabriel. They agree to meet and escape in a month.

Cecily has her baby. Vaughn frequently spirits him away for tests and won't allow her to breastfeed. Jenna begins dying early, and Rhine is convinced Vaughn is poisoning her to get rid of her. After Jenna's death, Rhine and Gabriel escape. They take a boat from the local harbor and sail away. They are free, but still have just a few years to live. They also need to search for Rhine's brother in Manhattan.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Rhine remembers her father playing Christmas music, even though Christmas itself ceased to exist a century earlier. The person officiating the weddings says, "What fate has brought together, let no man tear asunder." In the name of scientific progress, babies are frequently bred for experiments. Young women, like Rose, are given experimental drugs against their will. Both mothers and children are later dissected.

Authority Roles

Vaughn deceives and manipulates his son, kidnaps young women and experiments on the dead and the living. Linden is a naive, sheltered young man who tries to love his wives as best he knows how.


The Lord's name in vain appears a number of times, as well as d--n, b--tard and h---.

Young women are shot or found brutally murdered on the roadside. Rose and Jenna die in a gruesome manner, coughing up and splattering blood and vomit. Rhine remembers her brother shooting an intruder in the head.


Many young women are abducted and forced to serve as brides or prostitutes. Shortly after getting to the mansion, Rhine hears groans that she thinks are the housemaster and one of his wives having sex. She wonders how he chooses whom to sleep with, or whether he'll be with all the girls at once.

Polygamy is practiced. Under the watchful eye of Vaughn, Linden marries Rhine, Cecily and Jenna. Rhine and her sister wives are locked on a designated floor of the mansion. After the wedding, Rhine's maid puts her in a sultry dress and make-up to symbolize she's no longer a child and ready for her husband to come to her.

Cecily sleeps with Linden and becomes pregnant at 13. Once she is ready to give birth, the others find her in a watery puddle of blood. She has a descriptively bloody childbirth.

Jenna, who will turn 20 the following year, does her wifely sexual duties but remains emotionally distant from Linden. She admits that she was once a prostitute.

Linden makes Rhine his first wife, the one he takes to parties and social events. Men from older generations dance too close to Rhine at parties and put their hands on her hips. Linden often sleeps in Rhine's bed with her but never forces himself on her physically because he knows she doesn't want to be sexually intimate.

Gabriel and Rhine sneak a kiss.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Linden and Rhine drink a fair amount of alcohol to help them get through the parties and events they attend.

Lying: Rhine tells many lies in order to remain in favor with Vaughn and Linden and to escape the mansion.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 years and up.


Lauren DeStefano






Record Label



Simon & Schuster Book For Young Readers, a trademark of Simon & Schuster Inc.


On Video

Year Published




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