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Cover image for Wither


1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster BFYR, ©2011.
Physical Description:
358 pages ; 22 cm.
Number in series:
bk. 1.
After modern science turns every human into a genetic time bomb with men dying at age twenty-five and women dying at age twenty, girls are kidnapped and married off in order to repopulate the world.
Reading Level:
Ages 14 up.

Young Adult.

800 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader 6.3.

Reading Counts! 5.2.

Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.2 13.0 143644.

Reading Counts RC High School 6.3 21 Quiz: 51751.


Call Number

On Order



By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking 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 kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. 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 is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape--before her time runs out?

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?

Author Notes

Lauren Destefano won The Thornton Wilder Award for a short story entitled Orange Blood while in high school. She received a BA in English with a concentration in creative writing from Albertus Magnus College in Connecticut in 2007. She is the author of the Chemical Garden Trilogy.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-The first installment (S & S, 2011) of Lauren DeStefano's "The Chemical Garden Trilogy" will hook listeners and have them eagerly awaiting the next volume in what is sure to be a memorable series. However, this is by no means a perfect book. While the premise is arresting, dystopian fiction needs to grow from a believable foundation of science, history, and psychology. Multiple factors mar the believability of this world. While genetic engineering has attempted to make mankind immortal, a flaw has caused women to die at age 20 and men at 25. In an attempt to keep humanity from eradication, girls are kidnapped and sold into polygamous concubinage in order to breed children. The class system has become so stratified that the majority of the population are poor orphans, there is virtually no middle class, and the wealthy few rule. In this episode, listeners follow Rhine who has been kidnapped and sold to a rich man. What is wonderful about this book is the writing. The characters are lovingly created and the fantasies of the world that DeStefano has created shine through in the audio format. The combination of Angela Lin's narration and the lyrical prose make up for the structural flaws of the story. Sure to be popular.-Genevieve Gallagher. Charlottesville High School, VA (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Opening the Chemical Garden trilogy, DeStefano's harrowing debut initially comes across as The Handmaid's Tale for YA readers. DeStefano, however, forgoes larger social analysis to depict the personal impact of a dystopian future on Rhine and Gabriel, teenagers with a handful of years to live. Science gave 21st-century America one generation of perfect babies; since then, war has destroyed the other continents, and a virus that kills girls by 20 and boys by 25 has ravaged subsequent generations. Healthy teenage girls are prized as breeding stock, and Rhine is kidnapped and forced into a polygamous marriage with the wealthy Linden Ashby, in whose palatial Florida home Gabriel is a servant. Pampered but imprisoned, Rhine only wants to get back to her twin brother, Rowan, in gritty Manhattan. And as Gabriel's furtive relationship with Rhine grows, he begins to share her dream of escape. DeStefano has an observant and occasionally pitiless eye, chronicling the cruelties, mercies, and inconsistencies of her young characters. The larger world is less precisely realized; it will be intriguing to see how DeStefano develops it as this promising trilogy progresses. Ages 14-up. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

In a future where men die by age twenty-five and women by age twenty, Rhine is kidnapped and sold as an unwilling wife/breeder to wealthy Linden. Rhine, plotting her escape, reluctantly grows close to her "sister wives," her attendants, and even to Linden. Rhine's relationships with the other young women feel authentic, but her implausible attachment to her captor adds forced romantic tension. (c) Copyright 2011. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

In this thought-provoking debut, reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale with a touch of Big Love, a generation of "perfectly engineered" embryos, known as the First Generation, has been watching its children die off from a virus that claims females at age 20 and males at age 25. Since her geneticist parents' death, 16-year-old narrator Rhine and her twin brother spend endless nights warding off homeless orphans from their Manhattan basement until she is kidnapped by Gatherers, who make a living collecting potential brides and selling them off to wealthy families to breed new children. Jenna arrives at a Florida compound, where she is locked away with two other "sister wives," and the three teens are forced to marry (and presumably procreate with) 20-year-old Linden. Through her similar appearance to Linden's first (and now dead) love, intriguing heterochromia (two different colored eyes) and acting abilities, Rhine achieves "First Wife" status as she plots an escape. Her situation becomes more urgent when she discovers an underground laboratory where her diabolical father-in-law performs gruesome experiments in the name of finding a cure. A taut present-tense narration ratchets up the suspense. Despite some holes in the plot, particularly in the rushed ending, Rhine's fight for freedom against the clockand the dissecting tablewill leave readers eager for the sequel. Give this one to fans of The Hunger Games trilogy or Ally Condie's Matched (2010). (Dystopia. YA)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

When scientists engineered genetically perfect children, everyone thought it would ensure the future of the human race. Though the first generation is nearly immortal, a virus causes all successive generations to die early: age 20 for women, 25 for men. Now, girls are kidnapped for brothels or polygamous marriages to breed children. Rhine is taken from her hardscrabble life and sold with two other girls to Linden Ashby. Though they live in a palatial Florida home surrounded by gardens and treated like royalty, the girls are sequestered from the outside world, and Rhine longs to escape. Her growing affection for her sister wives, her pity for Linden, and her fear of Housemaster Vaughn, Linden's manipulative father, keep her uncomfortably docile until she falls for servant Gabriel. This character-driven dystopia, more thoughtful than thrilling, sets up an arresting premise that succeeds because of Rhine's poignant, conflicted narrative and DeStefano's evocative prose. Many will appreciate the intense character drama; however, the world building is underdeveloped, with holes in internal logic.Still, this first title in the Chemical Garden Trilogy will surely be popular.--Hutley, Krista Copyright 2010 Booklist