The Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano

08 Jul

DeStefano writes a dystopian trilogy where a genetic disease now causes death for males at age 25 and females at age 20. Many doctors are supposedly working on a cure, but the populace is angry that their sons and daughters are dying. To attempt to live until a cure is found, wealthy families buy young brides for their sons so that their bloodline will live on. Girls are snatched off the street and basically sold into this form of slavery despite their wishes. The series chronicles one girl’s desperate struggle for freedom.


Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery lives with her twin brother after their scientist parents were killed by angry citizens. When she’s snatched off the streets by the Gatherers, she stands with 20 or 30 other girls as a few are selected to be brides. To her dismay, she is one of those few, noticed by her two different colored eyes. As she’s being taken away, she notices the rest of the girls are loaded into another truck and there are gunshots. She’s been bought to be a bride of Linden Ashby by his terrifying and wealthy doctor father, along with two other girls, Jenna and Cecily. Although Linden is sweet and mourning the loss of his first wife, Rhine will do whatever it takes to escape and find her brother. Her only true ally is a servant boy, Gabriel.


After Rhine and Gabriel have escaped the Ashby household, they make their way up the coast only to get nabbed by a deranged madam and her eccentric fairgrounds and her brothel girls. There they are drugged and made to perform in front of crowds of men. With the help of one of the girls who has a crippled child and the Madam’s most trusted boy, they escape again, only this time with illness and the silent, odd child. They journey back to New York, where Rhine can only thing of finding her brother. Instead, they find another home, of sorts, as Rhine slips even more into a deadly illness.


Back in the Ashby household, Linden finally wakes up to his father’s cruel machinations and fights to protect the remaining members of his family. Vaughn, Linden’s father, is still attempting to make a cure, and Rhine and her brother are the key. The finale of this series will have you rooting for Rhine, Linden, and Cecily to be cured while also discovering bit by bit the world in which they live.

While there is no graphic sexuality or language in this book, the ideas and violence of certain ideas might be too much for younger readers. I found this book to be disturbing, though many of the practices (stealing child brides and forcing them into polygamous marriages to breed children, etc.) are present in other less modern societies. This is certainly no The Hunger Games or Divergent in terms of fan appeal, but it is worth a read if you like dystopians with a different spin. The worst part of the series for me was how action seemed so slow at times, particularly in Fever where she actually has a fever and is very sick. I did have a hard time reading the scenes with Cecily and her little boy, but it was a Mom thing. I couldn’t imagine having a child knowing I would be dead in a few years and couldn’t provide for that child. It’s terrible burden for a mother to bear, and that depth of emotion and feeling, I thought, the series showed really well. Linden himself is pretty wonderful, and once he realizes the extent his father is a Machiavellian tyrant, he stands up for his family. As far as the reading goes, it was okay/good read. Nothing to get wildly excited about, IMO.






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