Review: The Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren DeStefano

ChemicalGardenTrilogy_zps9084f5c1(Warning: As this is a series review, only my comments of Wither will be non-spoiler. When commenting on the sequels, Fever and Sever I may spoil the contents of the previous books.)

I’ve had the first book Wither on my shelf for about two years, and only managed to read the first fifty pages before I put it down for some unknown reason. I thought it was about time to give the series another shot, so here’s what I thought of what was promised to be a dystopian, and ended up being like The Selection gone wrong.

W  I  T  H  E  R

For a first book in the series, I could forgive a lot of things. It was Lauren DeStefano’s debut novel, and dystopian is always going to be a hard genre to write because so much thought has to go into the world, it’s purpose and what went wrong. Because of this, I think the writing style was a bit clumsy. The USP of Wither is that women die at 20 and men at 25. We’re told this fact on three consecutive pages. More trust needed to be put into the reader understanding the basics of the world, especially if it’s described on the blurb!

Along with the immediate death thing, girls are sold off to men at the highest bidder. Rhine, the protagonist, is sold to Linden Ashby, along with two other girls, Jenna and Cecily. Bigamy is apparently OK in this world. It was a very strange concept to read, especially the jealously that seethed between all the girls, despite two of them saying they didn’t really love Linden. I was quite uncomfortable with the whole set up.

Rhine was an OK character. We were told that she was special, because she had two different colour eyes, but for me she didn’t seem very special at all. There was nothing about her that was better than the other girls she was compared to. Jenna was probably my favourite of the girls, and I got to know the least about her. Cecily was downright annoying. Linden had absolutely no spine and no clue. Vaughan felt like a stock villain. He was doing evil things, but it’s not given a real explanation to why he’s so evil. If he’s not trying to find an antidote to the killing virus, what is he doing?

As for the romance, golly was it forced. Rhine and Gabriel didn’t get to see each other a lot, and it was like kindness was mistaken for love. I don’t doubt they do love each other, it’s just that I would have liked a bit more interaction between the two before they decided to try and escape together.

When reading Wither, I felt as trapped as Rhine in the Governor’s mansion. The pacing was erratic, days would pass and the only awareness would be sentences like “it was a cold December” and then it would click how long it had been. If I were to boil the book down to its essence, not a lot would have happened. Two people would have fallen in love, been thwarted and tried to run away. But, I had a lot of hope for Fever.

F  E  V  E  R

Second book syndrome to the max. Rhine and Gabriel managed to escape, otherwise this wouldn’t be a series, BUT, did they really escape only to be captured by a different villainous character? If I thought the first book was repetitive, Fever took it to a whole new level.

Gabriel and Rhine both get sick at different times in the book, hence the title. Reading so many scenes of delirium and falling asleep got so boring, I thought I was going to drop off myself! The whole book put me in this very weird, lethargic mood.

The new characters were interesting, I guess, but generally the same as the girls and villains we’d been introduced to in Wither. Not enough time was spent with any of them to truly gain an understanding of their character. Maddie holds the most potential for Sever, but not by much.

And, after another 340 pages, we’re still no closer to Rhine’s true goal: to find her brother, Rowan. That’s what this whole book was supposed to be about, the driving force behind her wanting to escape Linden’s mansion in the first place. I was annoyed with how this book didn’t propel the plot forward, but seemed to hinder it, instead.

S   E   V   E   R

I left at least a month between reading Sever and Fever, so I was a little out of the loop, but generally, I was surprised by how much I loved the ending. It gave a nice conclusion to all of the remaining characters’ lives, and finally addressed where the heck Gideon ended up after Fever. 

Overall, the last book felt very back-and-forth, like any progress that was made in the first two was completely eradicated. Rhine ended up back at the evil wife mansion. What gave this book purpose was the introduction of Rowan, Rhine’s twin brother, who she’d been searching for since Wither. He was an OK character, I guess, but didn’t really understand how traumatised Rhine had been by Vaughan. Nothing he said could convince me that Vaughan was a good guy. He was evil through and through.

I was very aware when I began the series that it was going to end in a genetic experiment, because how else were they going to solve the deaths of their young people? Being aware of the cliche before the ending helped to accept that this was one of the only incidences it would have made sense, unlike any other kind of dystopian society, explained any by genetic experimentation.

As I said, all the characters got…an ending. It might not have been happy, but at least all the little loose ends were tied. We found out the secret Jenna was hiding, and the backstory of Rose, and what made Madame so relevant. Cecily became much less annoying and Rhine, only a little bit worse for wear, got what she wanted: freedom.

I really would recommend this series to those that liked The Selection by Keira Cass, and are fond of the dystopian genre. It’s a little more tame than other dystopians, gentle and simple. In the end, I’m giving the series 3.5 stars, and in order of my favourites: Wither, Sever and then Fever. 

Review: Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano

22053410Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano
Genre: Fantasty, Dystopia, Romance
Published by: Harper Voyager
Pages: 365
Format: Paperback
Rating: ★★★.5
Where to Find: Goodreads | Amazon

The blurb of Perfect Ruin is quite misleading: ‘The loss of her older brother taught Morgan a lesson: he jumped and fell…Morgan resumes as normal a life as possible as she struggles to accept her brother’s decision.’ Morgan’s brother is not dead, as this suggests. Morgan didn’t lose her brother, her brother lost his eyesight. Also Morgan doesn’t struggle to accept his decision, because she too is curious about what life is like outside of Internment, the isolated world in the clouds where thinking about what else could be out there is frowned upon.

Continue reading “Review: Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano”

How To: Write a John Green Novel

You will need:

1. a male protagonist with a quirk.
2. a manic-pixie-dream-girl love interest who is ‘damaged’ and that the protagonist can use to find/fix himself.
3. one polar-opposite best friend and, optionally, one obnoxious best friend.
4. a setting that is based in reality, but somehow feels ethereal.
5. one hella good road trip.
Optionally you can add a missing girl (see 2.) into the equation.

It’s to be expected that any author is going to have some patterns in their writing style, and it’s particularly easy to spot them when their collected works so far and just the one genre. As a disclaimer, I am in no way trying to dissuade any one to not read or not enjoy John Green’s novels! They’re pretty wonderful, and Paper Towns is even on my favourites list, but just because I like the author doesn’t mean their writing is perfect. Despite whatever I say in this post I will not stop reading and enjoying Green’s works, and I look forward to whatever he publishes in the future. So be warned.

John Green is such a prominent author on any book shelf, be it library, supermarket or personal, that it’s become hard to criticise his work. This is partly due to the fact that he is also such a prominent member of the internet community, which makes him feel like a friend, or at least someone that we know a little more than the average author, and you wouldn’t criticise a friend, would you?

There’s no disputing the fact that ‘The John Green Formula’ (I will hereby refer to it as the TJGF) is a bestselling formula. The TJGF gives readers carefully developed characters and intricate love stories, not to mention they’re fun to read – I can not stress this enough. As much as a I enjoy the TJGF (which, I guess, technically makes it The The John Green Formula, but ‘The TJGF’ sounds better, so we’ll roll with it) I also find it a little frustrating.

I’m writing about the TJGF in my EPQ project about the way in which the first love is presented in YA and how it relates to character development, and it got me thinking more about the frequently occurring tropes in YA. The Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl being one of them, I’m not entirely sure where this came from, and it would be ignorant to say it must have started with the TJGF, but that seems to be where it’s most commonly recognised. Lauren DeStefano, author of the Chemical Garden trilogy, wrote a piece on the MPDG (I’m really going for the initialisms) and you can read it here. Her main point is that the MPDG trope objectifies women, and I can totally see where she’s coming from. (See 2.)

The MPDG trope is just as problematic as the ‘damsel in distress, need a boy to save me’ trope (the DIDNABTSM?) and this leads to questioning the representation of women in YA – and you can see how this controversy has spiralled out of just talking about the patterns in bestselling John Green novels. It brings on a whole feminist debate and issues about consent in YA literature – and let me tell you, they definitely should be discussed. I could go on and write a dissertation on the problematic tropes of the YA genre, but I’ll leave you with what I’ve got, slightly abruptly if anything, so that we can take some time to think about this stuff.

It’s almost strange to look at YA in such a critical light, as I normally think about YA as something I can read to take a break from the books on my English Literature course. But they’re so much more than that, the content and issues are just as serious as the ones in what are regarded as ‘the classics’.

Thanks for reading! It’s been a wild ride, and all I can say is ‘that escalated quickly.’