What if you knew exactly when you’d die? The first book of The Chemical Garden Trilogy.
By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males born with a lifespan of 25 years, and females a lifespan of 20 years—leaving the world in a state of panic. Geneticists seek 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 sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Yet 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 has no way to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive.
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?
Opening the Chemical Garden trilogy, DeStefano's harrowing debut initially comes across as The Handmaid's Tale for YA readers. DeStefano, however, forgoes larger social analysis to depict the personal impact of a dystopian future on Rhine and Gabriel, teenagers with a handful of years to live. Science gave 21st-century America one generation of perfect babies; since then, war has destroyed the other continents, and a virus that kills girls by 20 and boys by 25 has ravaged subsequent generations. Healthy teenage girls are prized as breeding stock, and Rhine is kidnapped and forced into a polygamous marriage with the wealthy Linden Ashby, in whose palatial Florida home Gabriel is a servant. Pampered but imprisoned, Rhine only wants to get back to her twin brother, Rowan, in gritty Manhattan. And as Gabriel's furtive relationship with Rhine grows, he begins to share her dream of escape. DeStefano has an observant and occasionally pitiless eye, chronicling the cruelties, mercies, and inconsistencies of her young characters. The larger world is less precisely realized; it will be intriguing to see how DeStefano develops it as this promising trilogy progresses. Ages 14 up. n
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