Monday, May 30, 2011

Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy) by Lauren DeStefano

Article first published as Book Review: Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy) by Lauren DeStefano on Blogcritics.

I had been seeing Wither by Lauren DeStefano a lot in bookstores and was intrigued by the premise. A genetic experiment gone wrong has given all newborns a fixed lifespan of 25 years for males and 20 years for females. How could I not get hooked?

Apparently, it happened when scientists were trying to discover a cure of cancer and other degenerative diseases. They found a way to genetically engineer fetuses so that all the babies would be born strong and healthy and immune to any disease. It worked great, and the first generation all grew up and grew old and never got sick.

Unfortunately, their children and their children’s children all started dying at the age of 20 and 25, and they’ve been looking for a cure since. In the meantime, it was important not to let the human race die out, so they started kidnapping girls in their teens to become child-brides and produce babies.

Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is one of the child-brides, but although her husband Linden loves her and she gets along well with her sister wives, she longs for her freedom and the love of a servant, Gabriel, who is as much a prisoner as she is. It’s a bittersweet story, and I can’t help but root for Rhine and Gabriel even as I’m rooting for her husband, Linden.

Reading this book makes me think of all the reasons people are against cloning, genetically modified foods, genetic engineering, and anything that interferes with the natural order of things.

It’s hard to say where I stand on this issue, because on the one hand, I can see all the benefits that could be achieved, but on the other, who knows what kind of effects all these experiments could have on us in the long run?

People have been saying for a while now that our lives are getting longer, but they haven’t considered the fact that these statistics include a lot of terminally sick people whose suffering are being prolonged by drugs and surgery. In contrast, the inhabitants in the world of Wither are all healthy and strong until they reach their curtailed life expectancy, then they get sick and die quickly.

In my opinion, if our lives were limited to 20-plus years, we wouldn’t be spending so much of our childhood learning lessons we’re never going to use, playing video games, and wasting time. We’d probably be living hedonistically and we’d definitely be having children as soon as we’re able to - we wouldn’t have time to read or do anything that didn’t contribute to our survival. We’d basically be living like animals.

The only thing that keeps the inhabitants of Wither from living like animals is the fact that the first generation of genetically engineered humans are still alive, although the youngest of them are already seventy years old. They are the ones that try to keep a semblance of a normal society intact, but what’s going to happen in a few more decades when the first generation dies and they still haven’t found a cure for the younger generation?

I’m interested in seeing what happens next with Rhine, Gabriel, and Linden and I want to know more about what happens to the people in Wither. Will they ever find a cure? What will happen when the first generation dies out? Wither is the first book in The Chemical Garden Trilogy, and I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the trilogy.


France said...

The other characters in the story are distinct and unmuddled as can sometimes happen in a first person narrative because the narrator doesn't know the feelings or thoughts of those around them. But Rhine is so adept at observing, reading, and understanding people that all of the characters spring to life in full color on the pages.

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