Book Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither by Lauren DeStefano.jpgTitle: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Chemical Garden, Book 1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 358 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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?

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This came out during the dystopia hype (which actually might still be going on, but anyway), so I didn’t really have any high hopes for how good it would be — I tend to be cautious towards really popular books, since I’ve been burned a few times by following the hype. :p However, even years later, it still seemed interesting to me, so I decided to at least skim it and see what it was about before outright deciding not to read it.

I have to say, Wither is a lot better than I expected it to be. I think there are a few logical holes as to how a society like this would have developed from the problem of short lifespans, but that aside, it’s actually quite a well thought out story about a girl in a desperate situation who tries to win back her freedom. The story itself dragged a bit, but I’m chalking that up to it being the first of a series and hopefully now that the worldbuilding is done, we can get into some really in-depth, complex looks at the characters and the society they live in within the next books of the series.

On the bright side however, the characters are well done and I loved learning more about them and learning how their lives fit into this strange world as a whole, and what their attitudes said about the world they’re living in. I also thought that DeStefano did an amazing job portraying Rhine’s internal conflict, where she needed to show that she was buying into her new life in order to win her freedom, but then felt guilty for maybe buying into it a little too much. Very, very well done on those counts.

While it’s not on a must-read list or even a definitely recommend list, it is interesting and I definitely want to make a point to read the sequels to see how this series turns out. If it sounds good to you, then I will say that I enjoyed myself, so maybe you will too.

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Book Review: Summer of Lost and Found by Rebecca Behrens

 

Summer of Lost and Found.jpg
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Title: Summer of Lost and Found
Author: Rebecca Behrens
Publisher: Aladdin/Simon & Schuster
Hardcover: 288 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Nell Dare expected to spend her summer vacation hanging out with her friends in New York City. That is, until her botanist mom dragged her all the way to Roanoke Island for a research trip. To make matters worse, her father suddenly and mysteriously leaves town, leaving no explanation or clues as to where he went—or why.

While Nell misses the city—and her dad—a ton, it doesn’t take long for her to become enthralled with the mysteries of Roanoke and its lost colony. And when Nell meets Ambrose—an equally curious historical reenactor—they start exploring for clues as to what really happened to the lost colonists. As Nell and Ambrose’s discoveries of tantalizing evidence mount, mysterious things begin to happen—like artifacts disappearing. And someone—or something—is keeping watch over their quest for answers.

It looks like Nell will get the adventurous summer she was hoping for, and she will discover secrets not only about Roanoke, but about herself.

*I was provided a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Historical fiction was one of my very favorite subjects when I was about 10 — around the age group this book is written for, actually. So, I occasionally like to break up my adult reading with some children’s/middle grade reading just to make things interesting. What really drew me to this book was the fact that it had something to do with Roanoke, which is a fascinating topic.

There isn’t much of a waiting period in terms of getting things set up and then getting into the story — instead, the story starts right away and the reader is left to figure things out as it goes along. I love this. It’s my favorite way of reading, because I tend to skim over all those setup paragraphs. Give me something to hold on to, then I’ll trudge through location, description, etc. Behrens does that, which I so much appreciate. More than that, she starts off with a real, gripping topic: Nell’s dad’s toothbrush isn’t in the bathroom and he’s gone. It becomes apparent fairly quickly that something is happening between Nell’s parents, but she’s too scared to ask questions, so she goes along with it and accompanies her mother to a trip to North Carolina, around where the Roanoke colony was established.

Overall, I thought this book was really cute. As a ten-year-old, it probably would have been one of my favorites. Ghost stories, mysteries, historical fiction? Heck yes! Sign me up. As an adult, it doesn’t quite hold up in terms of complexity and story telling. I thought that the friendship between Nell and the girl she meets during her summer vacation to be strange, and I don’t think that current slang/technology was used to its best advantage. I’ve never personally heard a kid tell me, “She’s not really my friend, she’s my frenemy,” straight up like that. I think it’s more of an understood thing than a thing that kids actually say, but that might just be me. Nell also describes a lot of what she does on her cell phone, which might have been better used just as straight dialogue or text instead of summarized within the narration. Again, kind of nitpicky things that I don’t think will necessarily bother the age group/reading level this is written for.

What is great about this book is that I had a ton of questions about the actual historical colony of Roanoke, and I wanted to get my hands on history books about it right after I finished reading Summer of Lost and Found. I can see a younger reader having the same reaction, which means this might be a great companion piece/gateway to learning about some colonial history for kids. I also really love that it deals with a hard, complicated topic: parents not getting along and not dealing with it very well. It’s a great way for kids to take a look at coping mechanisms and ways of resolving conflict.

Most importantly, it’s just plain fun. I loved following Nell in her adventure to find the lost colony of Roanoke, making my own theories and guesses as she discovered more and more about the colony and the area. It was a cute story and a quick read that I think a lot of younger (and older) readers will appreciate.