A Handmaidens Tale Re-spun | Cyn’s Book Review: Wither (The Chemical Gardens, #1)

By: Cynthia Ayala

The human race is dying out, fleeting out of existence. Wither, by Lauren DeStefano, explores the ramifications of genetic engineering in her novel while taking a unique take on the classic story “A Handmaidens Tale”. But does the novel warrant attention or is it better left unchecked?


Author: Lauren DeStefano

Published: March 22, 2011

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Series: The Chemical Garden

Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction, Young Adult

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.  Rhine, desperate to communicate to her twin brother attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?

A story about prison and the price of living in a future where the perfect genetic structure could lead to the ultimate pain.

Wither takes place in a very dark future.  Written by Lauren DeStefano and published by Simon & Schuster on March 22, 2011, the novel delves into the dystopian and science fiction genre’s bringing young adult readers a new spin on an old tale: A Handmaidens Tale.

In Wither, just as the synopsis above states, the human race is dying out due to the botched effort of trying to create the perfect race, where sickness would no longer be an issue.  But their efforts have tainted the younger generation, giving them shorter lifespans than ever anticipated.  Girls get deathly ill and die at the age of 20 and men die at the age of 25.  So with humanity hanging on by a thread, the privilege do the unthinkable: they kidnap young girls and force them to be wives.  For Rhine, they lured her and kidnapped her.

Told from her perspective, readers are introduced into a dark world where freedom is an illusion and a wedding band is an invisible cage to trap the young, regardless of whether they are boys are girls.  Following Rhine, DeStefano explores the future, explores what is real versus what is “real”.  In the privileged world there is unreal, a farce compared to the reality of the situation but also a harsh reminder of reality, of death.  The privilege deny themselves the ability to see the truth and through Rhine readers are able to see the delusion of life and the delusion of what freedom is for these characters.  Readers will find that quite frightful but they will finish this book enlightened, just as Rhine found herself enlightened.  Her character begins thinking in one way but as she grows and as time passes, she is faced with a dilemma: continue to life a lie of luxury or face the harsh reality, the truth that life really is short.

It’s a novel that on the surface doesn’t seem to have a lot of depth to it as the readers follow Rhine through this superficial world; however, the contents themselves offer the readers a lot of insight between reality and fiction even though the characterization themselves aren’t spectacular, the novel is worth a read.  ★★★☆☆ (B-)

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