What if you knew exactly when you’d die? The first book of The Chemical Garden Trilogy.
By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males born with a lifespan of 25 years, and females a lifespan of 20 years--leaving the world in a state of panic. Geneticists seek 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 sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Yet 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 has no way to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive.
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?
Reading Group Guide for Wither by Lauren DeStefano
ABOUT THE BOOK
Rhine Ellery is sixteen years old and has four years to live. She was born into a genetically engineered world in which an attempt to perfect the species and make people immune to all disease has shortened human lifespan: A virus now kills women at the age of twenty and men at the age of twenty-five. Desperate to extend the family lineage, powerful families force young women into polygamous marriages. Rhine is one of three new brides who are held captive, but lavishly cared for, in a sprawling mansion. The three wives—Rhine, Jenna, and Cecily—live in a rich and seemingly perfect world filled with beautiful clothes, wonderful foods, and lush gardens. But danger lurks around the corner when Rhine develops a relationship with a house servant, Gabriel, and starts to suspect that her father-in-law is conducting mysterious research in the basement of the mansion in the name of finding an antidote. Rhine’s best chance of escaping is to win her husband Linden’s favor as his first wife and, together with Gabriel, plot her getaway.
How might society be different if scientists could create a generation of human beings immune to all disease? Would such a world be ideal? Why or why not?
Rhine is snatched off the streets by Gatherers and wakes up in a satin bed in a mansion owned by a House Governor. What does she remember about being taken captive? Why is she being held in the mansion? Why is she considered to be one of the lucky girls?
In Rhine’s world, women die at the age of twenty and men die when they reach twenty-five. What accounts for this short lifespan? Why is early marriage encouraged by the wealthy?
Who is Lady Rose and why is she ill? How does her character contribute to the story’s plot? To Rhine’s understanding of her new life?
Describe Rhine’s life prior to being taken by the Gatherers. Who were her parents? Explain what happened to them. How did she and her twin brother, Rowan, survive on their own?
Rhine initially feels disdain for Linden, her new husband and son of the House Governor. Why is she contemptuous? How do her feelings change as she gets to know him? What information does she eventually learn that enables her to see him in a different light? In what way is Linden a victim?
Rhine is one of three new brides for Linden. Compare and contrast Rhine, Cecily, and Jenna. How does each view being forced into marriage? How do the wives grow together as time passes? How does each adjust to and/or cope with her new lifestyle?
How does Rhine become Linden’s first wife? How does this role enable her to plan her escape?
Rhine becomes attracted to Gabriel, a house servant. What draws them together and how is their relationship dangerous? How does Gabriel help Rhine?
House Governor Vaughn claims to be working on an antidote that will cure future generations of the virus that kills young men and women in their prime years. What mysteries surround the basement of the mansion? What fears does Rhine have about his intentions?
What physical feature sets Rhine apart from the other two new brides? Why might this physical attribute be desirable?
Compare and contrast House Governor Vaughn and his son, Linden. How does each view the three wives?
Rhine has multiple dreams in the story. How do the dreams contribute to the story and to the reader’s understanding of Rhine?
One can argue that the mansion represents an ideal world. Rhine, Jenna, and Cecily have everything they can possibly imagine. They have stunning clothes and amazing foods to eat and a beautiful home with gardens. Holograms are even used to export them to other experiences and places. Are any of the three girls suited for this life? If so, who and why? In what way has Linden been sheltered by this lifestyle?
When Rhine is discussing escaping with Gabriel, she says, “You’ve been captive for so long that you don’t even realize you want freedom anymore.” How might this statement apply to Cecily? How might it apply to Linden? Cite examples in the story in which Rhine is almost taken in by her new surroundings. What thoughts pull her back to reality?
How do Rhine and Gabriel plot to escape? What character traits enable Rhine to go through with the plan?
Research advances in human cloning and genetics. Prepare a presentation on the possibilities that exist today and the ethical questions these possibilities raise.
Choose a media form (narrative, art, computer program, etc.) and create your own ideal world. What holograms would you have in your world? What would the people and the environment be like? What foods would exist? How would people spend their time?
Research human trafficking in America. What organizations and aid exist in the U.S. for individuals who are held in bondage? How might we better educate people about human trafficking in the U.S.? Develop a class presentation on your findings.
Read Sold by Patricia McCormick or a similar book on people being sold into human trafficking, prostitution, or otherwise being held against their will. What similarities do you find in the treatment of women and children? What differences exist?
We sometimes read/hear news stories of individuals who have been kidnapped, and they do not seem to resist or attempt to escape (Patty Hearst, Elizabeth Smart). Reexamine the kidnapping and subsequent treatment of Rhine, Jenna, and Cecily. In reviewing the novel, prepare responses to the following questions for group discussion: How is each girl affected psychologically? How is each “groomed” to mold into her new life? How do each girl’s personality traits affect her thinking? How does each girl adjust or conform to her new life? Which girl is the easiest target and why?
Guide written by by Pam B. Cole, Professor of English Education & Literacy Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Lauren DeStefano is the author of The Internment Chronicles and the New York Times bestselling Chemical Garden trilogy, which includes Wither, Fever, and Sever. She earned her BA in English with a concentration in creative writing from Albertus Magnus College in Connecticut. Visit her at LaurenDeStefano.com.