(Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 1)
by Lauren DeStefano
Release Date: March 2011
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?
To start: I love the cover. See how the little circles pull your focus to very specific things in the picture? Those things are very important, and tell you a lot about the story inside.
But, cover aside, what about the story itself?
Well, for a story where nothing much happens, it’s pretty darn compelling. I got halfway through the book before I realized, “wait a minute… it’s been 150 pages and all the main character has done is walk through her daily routine a few times and chat with the other wives… why am I still interested?!?!”
And honestly, I’m not sure. It takes quite awhile for the main character to decide to actually do anything about her situation, but when she does, it’s worth the wait. In the meantime, the interactions between the characters and the simple consequences of a wrong word spoken here, or a strange glance there, are enough to maintain a rather stressful level of tension throughout the narrative, even without much action.
In the end, the worldbuilding in this novel was better than in others I’ve recently read, and the slow reveal of the situation wasn’t as annoying as some others. I’d also say that, compared to the book Bumped, which has a similar premise, I found this story much smoother in terms of the way the fertility/life expectancy issues were introduced (review of Bumped forthcoming…).
Mind you, there are still plenty of questions left unanswered, and a number of bizarre issues not addressed (ie. when did society become okay with rounding up fertile young women and shooting them, if there’s a population crisis? and why are there orphans on the street if children are such a precious commodity?). If you can get past that, it’s a surprisingly good read, and I’m certainly looking forward to the second installment.
About the Author
Lauren DeStefano was born in New Haven, Connecticut and has never traveled far from the east coast. She received a BA in English from Albertus Magnus College recently, and has been writing since childhood. She made her authorial debut by writing on the back of children’s menus at restaurants and filling up the notepads in her mom’s purse. Her very first manuscript was written on a yellow legal pad with red pen, and it was about a haunted shed that ate small children.
Now that she is all grown up (for the most part), she writes fiction for young adults. Her failed career aspirations include: world’s worst receptionist, coffee house barista, sympathetic tax collector, and English tutor. When she isn’t writing, she’s screaming obscenities at her Nintendo DS, freaking her cats out with the laser pen, or rescuing thrift store finds and reconstructing them into killer new outfits.