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Wither: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 1
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the stylish cover is bound to draw in teen girls who like a fantasy/sci-fi angle with their romance, but this book explores many mature themes, including polygamy. In this bleak future world, genetic engineering has wrought a deadly virus -- in new generations women die at 20 and men at 25. "When their bodies are mature enough to bear children," teen girls are sold to brothels, or, if they're "lucky," to wealthy men as brides. Three kidnapped brides are at the center of this story, one who is only 13 -- and she's the one who gets pregnant. Sex isn't ever explicit but there are some haunting violent images. Two girls die via bloodied coughs and fevers, and their corpses are then dissected by a mad scientist bent on finding a cure.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
Sometime after WWIII knocks out all other continents but North America, geneticists figure out how to engineer a person to be disease-free. All goes well with the first generation, but all other generations die of a mysterious virus; women at 20, men at 25. That leaves wealthy men clamoring to employ the services of Gatherers who kidnap girls from the streets to become brides -- and have babies. While his sweetheart is on her deathbed, House Governor Linden, with the help of his first-gen father -- and sinister geneticist -- picks out three more girls from a lineup: 13-year-old Cecily, 18-year-old Jenna, and 16-year-old Rhine. While the other girls don't see a way out, Rhine won't give up hoping. As she wins Linden's trust, she attains the status of \"first wife\" and gets to be the eye-candy on his arm in public. It's the first step toward an escape route. Linden's father seems to be keeping a closer eye on her, though, especially after she takes a rather obvious fancy to a handsome servant named Gabriel.
Is it any good?
Dystopian reads are all the rage these days, and it's no wonder this series starter has generated a buzz: It throws in a handsome heroine and attention-grabbing plot points. First-time author Lauren DeStefano knows how to hook her audience, as long as they're not too picky about the particulars of her dystopian world, which doesn't seem all that well thought out. And the suspense over what Linden's sinister father is doing in the basement doesn't hold that well either. Sure he's creepy and controlling, but if he's looking for the virus's cure, it's hard to judge him too harshly.
What makes the book stand out is the surprising depth the author adds to her main characters. Readers see Rhine waffle between wanting freedom and being willing to conform -- especially as she develops true kinship with her sister-wives and realizes her husband isn't a monster. Readers may even have trouble wondering if they should be on Teem Linden or Team Gabriel. This talent for character development is what will draw readers in, and will likely keep them hooked through the planned trilogy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why dystopian novels are so popular with teens right now -- think The Hunger Games, for example. Why do you think teen readers are fascinated with dark, future worlds?
Also, how does the future world presented here compare to other books or movies set in the not-so-distant future? What are some common themes? Can you think of any media that presents life in a future society as better than it is today?
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