Author: Lauren DeStefano
- Series: The Chemical Garden #1
- Published: March 22, 2012
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
- Reading Level: Ages 14 and Up
- Pages: 358 pages
- Source: Won
By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking 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 kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. 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 is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape--before her time runs out?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?
Since this is a young adult novel, I feel obligated to tell you that this book contains polygamy, sex, pregnancy, death, evil intentions, and more.
Rhine lives in a world where girls die at age 20 and boys die at age 25. While few geneticists struggle to find a cure to this virus, many people have come accustomed to living in a world like this. Children are often orphaned, their parents succumbing to the virus not long after their children's birth. Girls are abducted off the streets by Gatherer's. They can be killed, sold into prostitution, or accepted as a sister wife to a wealthy man who expects them to bear many children to help find a cure to the virus. Thus, many men have several wives, and polygamy is everywhere in the novel. Rhine got lucky with Linden. He's a kind-hearted man with good intentions and truly loves her, but his father, Headmaster Vaughn is an evil man who should be completely ignored.
The plot in this novel was totally unique. While I understand the necessity for all aspects that made me uncomfortable, it doesn't change the fact that such things made me uncomfortable at times. But this novel made you feel. Despite starting off slow, you connected with Rhine from the get-go, as well as Jenna and Cecily--the other two sister wives in the house. This novel chilled you to the bones, made you feel joyful for them, and share in their dread. DeStefano knows how to kick your emotions into overdrive.
What I loved most about this novel was the characterization. Rhine may have a slow voice every now and then, but she was determined, stubborn, and unwilling to succumb to Vaughn's evil tendencies. I loved reading in her voice and had no problem connecting with her. I loved Gabriel as well. Such a faithful, amazing servant. I wish he played a larger part in the novel since he disappeared for so long.
The other sister-wives were great as well. Both Jenna and Cecily managed to bond with her in such important ways. Cecily, only 13, was a brute to the servants and so desperately craved their husband, Linden's, attention. She was orphaned, so she dreamed for the day that she could be thrown into a life full of luxury. So naive and, at times, out of place, you can't help but love her one minute and be annoyed with her the next. Jenna despised Linden and Vaughn just as much as Rhine did and made no effort to hide it. Rhine had reason to hide it, but Jenna did not. At age 18, she was expected to die in just 2 years. She had nothing to lose. Moving to the mansion in Florida was her way of knowing she'd die in a nice place, and she'd spend her life doing everything in her power to help Rhine escape to her twin brother, Rowan.
I loved Linden's devotion to his first wife, Rose, and the trouble he experienced in her absence. And I so greatly despise his father, Vaughn. But I must admit, Vaughn was characterized beautifully. You could feel his cruelty, his evil oozing from the pages. I was chilled every time he was mentioned in the novel. I have never hated a character as much as him, so I have to give DeStefano props for writing up such a believably deranged villain.
The world-building in this novel was magnificent. It's a world that I will never want to live in, but it succeeded perfectly in making the world seem real. Set in the future, it does have remnants of present-day society and explains how things are they way they are. It's a scary world, one that makes goosebumps--and not the pleasant type--trace up and down your spine as you read about it and begin to picture yourself there. Perhaps it is why I was so hesitant to immerse myself in this story--this world came out of one of my worst nightmares and I had no desire to temporarily live within it, but that didn't stop me from doing so.
Now, for my qualms. This novel was my first brush with polygamy, so I didn't know how I'd take it. It was a bit odd for me. The scenes creeped me out, at times. Besides the times when all the girls banned together to overwhelm Linden to get something they want, I was a bit repulsed by the fact that Linden had 3 wives and his goal was to have children with them each. Even more so by the lack of moral. I know that this story is a dystopia, but I just couldn't accept some of the happenings in the novel. For crying out loud, Cecily was married at the tender age of 13! 13! Linden, you are 21! You should not be entertaining such thoughts about a girl who is practically a decade younger than you! Gah! Such things like this annoyed me more than Vaughn and his creepy ways. While I do not approve of them, they were part of his character and you just accepted that. By no means do I freak out of a book has pregnancy or sex or marriage, but this immoral spin to it was unexpected and I was admittedly unprepared for it. However, even with all of these problems, I couldn't put the book down and found myself loving some of the characters. Strange, isn't it? You can love some parts of the book, but hate others. Very mixed feelings.
In all honesty, I struggled with rating this one. By no means do I think that this book is a 3. I didn't think it was just "good." It was more than "good," but it was not "great," so it doesn't deserve a 4 either. Thus, I settled on the in-between with a 3.5. Perhaps it is my worries with the morals that are messing with my judgment, but I understand why this book received so much hype. It is, without a doubt in my mind, totally unique and should be praised because of it. But it's a bit disturbing and unsettling to me at times, too. (Keep in mind that this changes for everyone.) Because of this, I found myself having to put the book down for a few minutes every now and then to regain my bearings. I didn't know the true extent of all the topics that this book covers, so it was not what I expected. While I do plan on reading its sequel, I think I need a short span of time to mentally catch my breath. But I'm craving the sequel more than anything. With Gabriel finally back in the picture, I must know how their journey to freedom ensues.
If you want something different that's a bit of a heavier read, this will be a good book for you. If you can't handle heavy, this book will not be a good pick for you, at all.
I love this cover. It is rare that I like covers with people on it, but this cover is so eye-catching and... unique. With the recent drama about white females in dresses being all over book covers, I know that me saying I actually like a cover like this is odd. While the others are often just a girl standing there, this girl is broken and bent out of shape and the circular design that continues throughout the novel's chapter title brings your focus onto little details, like the tiny bird and her curled fingers--a wedding band similar to Rhine's adorning one of said fingers. I just like the concept of this cover.