Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Review of the Chemical Garden Trilogy


Wither, first book in the Chemical Garden Trilogy, by Lauren DeStefano
Young Adult
Post-apocalyptic, Dystopian

On Saturday I read Fever, the second of the Chemical Garden Trilogy, in a single day, lying in bed listening to the wind in the autumn trees, eating chocolate. I think I read the first book, Wither, in a similarly short time in August. And now I'm anxiously awaiting February 12 when the third book, Sever, is published.

Imagine a time in the future: Scientists and doctors have found a way to fix genetic defects in babies. A generation of healthy, long-lived individuals is born. They in turn have children, but when this new generation matures, the women die at 20 and the men at 25. Every successive generation dies in their early twenties. Scientists can't figure out what's wrong.

Now there are only that first super generation, in their sixties and seventies, and the newer generations, all under 25. Orphanages train children to do the tasks adults normally would. To ensure the species survives, birth control has been outlawed, men take multiple wives, and girls become brides as young as 13. Some of these girls come from bride schools, girls who yearn to become the bride of a wealthy man. But many are forcefully wed, kidnapped off the street and sold to the highest bidder. Those who are not chosen are shot and left in the gutter.

This is the story of Rhine. Sixteen, an orphan, she is stolen from her twin brother and chosen as one of three brides by a young man named Linden. She enters a world of wealth and privilege with her sister-wives, but she knows she is little better than a slave. All she wants is to escape and return to her brother, the only family she has left. While plotting her escape, will she slowly succumb to the luxury that surrounds her? Will her old life become but a dream, as she is lulled into complacency by good food, maids at her beck and call, fancy parties? Will she forget that the shy but endearing Linden is both husband and captor?

But worse than all that is the looming threat of Linden's father, a doctor bent on curing his son's short life expectancy at any cost, a puppet master pulling strings in the background, enacting who knows what horrible experiments, hiding secrets in the basement.

And still, Rhine's life is ticking away. Just four years until she reaches twenty, just four years until she faces death, if she survives that long.

A post-apocalyptic YA, I feel The Chemical Garden Trilogy is a more feminine Hunger Games. It is better written than most YA, the prose elegant and contemplative and colorful. Rhine is intelligent and full of verve, just as a heroine should be. I love the bond that slowly grows between her and her (sometimes mysterious, sometimes annoying) sister-wives. Housemaster Vaughn, Rhine's mad scientist father-in-law, is seriously creepy. Oh yeah, and one of the servants is an attractive and sympathetic young man Rhine would like to get to know.

The second book of the trilogy is just as good as the first, at times colorful and haunting, at others frightening and disturbing. I found myself becoming nostalgic along with Rhine for situations in the first book (can't give more detail than that, spoilers!).

If you enjoy YA, The Chemical Garden Trilogy is well worth your time.

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