Wither: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Wither: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Mature dystopian fantasy with polygamy, teen pregnancy.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 7 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This dystopian novel may encourage teens to think about a wide range of topics, such as what they would do in Rhine's situation, what are the risks of  genetic engineering or why dystopian books are popular right now. See our Families Can Talk About section for some discussion starters. 


Positive Messages

This dystopian novel explores themes of freedom-- an all-consuming hope for the main character Rhine who is not only kidnapped, but also has only four more years to live.



Positive Role Models & Representations

Rhine is an admirable main character who risks everything for freedom in the end, but she's also prone to excessive brooding. She forms a strong bond with her sister-wives, despite their different backgrounds and desires.


A few instances of jarring violence -- teen girls are kidnapped and gunshots are heard in the distance as 13 unwanted girls are shot. The remaining girls are knocked out by gas and needles. A virus kills women when they're 20 and men at 25; details are given of two women's deaths with coughing up blood and fevers. Many references to cadavers in a basement laboratory used for study. Rhine remembers an attempted kidnapping years before when her brother shot and killed an intruder. Three teen girls are forced into marriage with one man and two of the three then consummate the forced relationship -- the husband does wait until they seem willing, but they wouldn't be there if they weren't kidnapped. Broken bones are suffered during a hurricane. Plus signs that one of the servants was beaten. The main character remembers her parents' deaths in an explosion years before while most other characters are orphaned at a young age and live in orphanages.


Two of the three kidnapped teen brides -- ages 13 and 18 -- do consummate the relationship, though no details are shared beyond bloodied sheets and an open Kama Sutra book one wife tells another they started experimenting with because she hadn't conceived yet. The 13-year-old gets pregnant. The main character kisses both her husband and one of the servants. Much talk of orphaned girls ending up in brothels or sold into prostitution -- one of the wives used to work in a brothel.


"Goddammnit" a few times.


Not an issue.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking at parties and on the way to parties that Rhine attends with her husband.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byNele Peeters February 25, 2015


Wither is one of my favorite books and I can read it over and over again. I actually read it 7 times and chances are there will be many more times. Honestly, I... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byRockyBalboa June 28, 2012

Pretty Good

It was okay, but I wasn't as wowed as I thought I would be. Not much character development.
Teen, 16 years old Written byNIXY January 27, 2012


I think it is one of the best books i have ever read! ah! just LOVE it!

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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sci-fi and fantasy

Themes & Topics

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