The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither by Lauren DeStefano is a Winner!

Book Review
Title: The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Released: March 2011
Pages: 368
ISBN-10: 1442409053
ISBN-13: 978-1-4424-0905-7
Stars: 4.0

I am a fortunate recipient of an advance reader’s copy of debut novelist Lauren DeStefano’s The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither, published by Simon & Schuster. Wither is the first piece of this dystopian puzzle and although it is recommended for ages 14+, I was charmed by it and could not put it down. Wither is a refreshing, unique and dazzling story (despite comparisons made to The Handmaid’s Tale), filled with compelling characters that leap off the page. While it does raise a few questions, I chose not to analyze the life out of it and just enjoyed it for the pleasurable fantasy read that it is. I can already completely envision the movie version and don’t think I’m remiss in saying that fans of the Twilight series will undoubtedly enjoy this too.

In the not-too-distant future, Earth has almost been entirely obliterated by a viral plague created through genetic engineering that has wiped out every continent except for North America. In this nightmare, males only live to be 25-years-old and females only live to age 20, raising the questions, “What if you knew when you were going to die?” How would you choose to live your life?

Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is a beautiful, intelligent orphan with hemochromatic eyes (one brown, one blue) who has been kidnapped by “Gatherers” and sold at auction as a bride to a rich governor. She is torn away from the only life she knows in an almost unrecognizable Manhattan where her twin brother Rowan works in a factory to support them while it’s her job to keep their ramshackle home safe from looters.

Rhine isn’t a special victim, but rather the norm, as there are few things left for young women in this new world to do but be sold into slavery to propagate the species. Only the beautiful are chosen as brides while the others become prostitutes or are murdered.

Rhine finds herself living in a picturesque but sinister Florida mansion – decorated with holograms and steeped in illusion – and wedded to a naïve, young Governor Linden Ashby. Linden, a would-be architect, is mourning the impending death of his true love and first wife, Rose, while being completely controlled by his creepy, geneticist father, Housemaster Vaughn (a first generation who didn’t succumb to the plague), who lets everyone think he’s working on an antidote for the fatal disease.

Rhine has two sister wives: (polygamy is also not unusual in this new world) 13-year-old Cecilia, a bratty redhead who was born in an orphanage and never knew her parents – so has little problem adjusting to life as a rich man’s child bride – and 18-year-old Jenna, a sad, introverted brunette whose sisters are murdered in the same van she was taken away in when she was captured.

Rhine befriends Rose, who soon dies, and whose body is mysteriously transported to the basement, never to be given a proper funeral. Cecilia takes her place as Linden’s new lover, and before long becomes pregnant with his child. Jenna’s relationship with her husband is only sexual as she refuses to give him her heart, while Rhine rejects the consummation of her marriage and instead befriends a kind and empathetic servant named Gabriel whom she comes to trust. (It was a little hard to believe that she would have been able to continuously deny her husband who clearly had his way with the others.)

On the outside, Rhine’s world is one of glamour, parties, growing friendships with her sister wives and an orange grove utopia, while the reality is one of ugly secrets, danger and the dance of the Grim Reaper.

This first person narrative is thoughtfully conveyed in Rhine’s voice, with moral dilemmas always close to the surface, and her relationships with the other characters are as well developed and realistic as they can be in a science fiction setting. We know Rhine is biding her time by pretending to want to be Linden’s first wife until she can figure out a way to escape. We also know that there’s something inherently evil going on in the basement of the mansion and that although Vaughn is supposedly carrying out DNA experiments to find a cure, nothing is what it appears to be. We also know by the end of this page turner that we’re not going to get to know what happens to Rhine and Gabriel until the next edition of the trilogy. By then, you will be completely sucked into the story and will have to read the next book! And believe me, I will.

Bravo Lauren DeStefano! You’re going to have a very successful writing career.

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

Breaking Dawn

Paranormal Romance Fiction Book Review

Title: Breaking Dawn
Author:  Stephenie Meyers
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Released: August 2, 2008
Pages: 768
ISBN 10 – 031606792X
ISBN 13 – 978-0316067928
Stars:  4.0

I read Stephenie Meyer’s mega-bestselling Twilight and New Moon last year, and then like millions of others, went to see the movie Twilight upon its release. It’s embarrassing to admit as a forty-five-year-old woman, but Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of Edward Cullen jammed my radar for days! He truly is supernaturally beautiful as Edward and Kristen Stewart’s uncomfortable, awkward, worried, and accident-prone but beautiful Isabella Swan is an equally perfect depiction of Meyer’s “Bella.”

The Twilight saga is a worldwide phenomenon (as of February 2009, over twenty-eight million copies had been sold!) that made author Stephenie Meyer a superstar in her own right, and she deserves every bit of her success, as did J. K. Rowling before her. They have both created unforgettable characters that we care about so much that they feel like family, and their stories are set against the most magical backdrops imaginable. They transport us out of our dreary, mundane, mortal lives to a place where absolutely ANYTHING can happen and remind us why we have an imagination.

I completely understand the appeal of the Twilight series. A contemporary story (inspired by a dream) in which the writing flows effortlessly, the character development is superb, and the characters bring to life every human emotion imaginable, in particular, young love and its all-encompassing allure. This is not a vampire/horror novel in the archetypal sense (Meyer’s main vampire characters don’t feed on human blood and live in peace among the humans of Forks, Washington); it’s a romance inspired by classics like Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights. Anyone who is a fan of true love cannot help but be completely mesmerized by Bella and Edward’s story.

My favourites of Meyer’s books are Twilight and Breaking Dawn because I am more interested in Bella and Edward than I am in Jacob. New Moon just didn’t have enough Edward in it for my taste. I found the relationship turmoil between Jacob and Bella in Eclipse to be a bit overblown at times, and some of the dialogue between them was almost nauseating (I thought, if Bella apologizes one more time, I’m going to scream!), but I understood its importance in the grand scheme of things. I just finished reading Eclipse, and while I enjoyed it thoroughly, I couldn’t wait for what I was sure to discover in Breaking Dawn, and I picked it up right away and continued reading.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an hour-long discussion with my best friend’s 12-year-old son, Jacob, who is a huge fan of the books. Jacob is an exceptional child (whose favourite character is Jacob Black), and he had read all four books within a week! I was amazed that he could remember the story in vivid detail and quote the last line of Breaking Dawn word for word! I didn’t mind in the least that he confirmed the outcome for me before I read it. He told me that Breaking Dawn has at least six major surprises in it, and it does—even though I’d already guessed most of them, there was a big surprise I hadn’t considered! The book made me sigh heavily more than once. This is the epitome of fairy tales!

“A very, very small part of my head considered the interesting conundrum presented in this situation. I was never going to get tired, and neither was he. We didn’t have to catch our breath or rest or eat or even use the bathroom; we had no more mundane human needs. He had the most beautiful, perfect body in the world, and I had him all to myself, and it didn’t feel like I was ever going to find a point where I would think, Now I’ve had enough for one day. I was always going to want more. And the day was never going to end. So, in such a situation, how did we ever stop?

It didn’t bother me at all that I had no answer.”

See what I mean?

I languished over and savoured every chapter of Breaking Dawn, stretching it out for as long as I could. As an adult, I was quite disappointed with the scene in which Bella and Edward finally physically consummate their love as it translated to something you’d see on network television—a passionate kiss, followed by a fade to black, and the next morning the couple are in bed together with their clothes on, and everything that happened between them is assumed. (I wasn’t surprised to discover that Meyer comes from a Mormon family.) However, the last few chapters were incredibly intense and suspenseful, and had me hanging onto every word. I won’t give away the story or its surprises, but I will say that its elemental themes are love (in all its forms), family, loyalty, and living in peace with tolerance for those who are different. If you’re a fan of vampire or werewolf/shapeshifter stories or simply a great, adventurous romance with a huge heart, this series is definitely for you.

Most members of the Cullen family are an integral part of the story: Carlisle, Rosalie, Jasper and particularly Alice, who is my favourite character after Edward and Bella. Although Esme and Emmett didn’t play quite as large a part, you cannot imagine the Cullen family without them. Jacob’s steadfast loyalty, as well as the collective allegiance of his wolf pack (Seth is the most obvious), is equally important. The addition of many different vampire covens from all over the world in Breaking Dawn added to the intrigue of the tale, and the fear of their confrontation with the Volturi ancients was palpable.

There is plenty of room for more vampire and werewolf stories when this one concludes, and I know I will read every book that Stephenie Meyer writes. I didn’t want Breaking Dawn to end. Meyer says it’s the last book of the Twilight saga written from Bella’s perspective. She was working on Midnight Sun, which was to be Twilight from Edward’s perspective, but due to an unfortunate leak of a draft copy on the Internet, it remains to be seen whether the book will ever see the light of day. [Note: the book was published in 2020 and is available on Amazon.]

No matter what Stephenie Meyer chooses to write for her next book, it will undoubtedly be another bestseller. Although she admits she’s still an amateur writer in her mind, she should have a very long career in which to evolve into an expert.