Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
Series: Chemical Garden #1
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
What if you knew exactly when you would die?
Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.
The characterization is awesome. Awesome. All of the characters have such depth. Even Rowan, Rhine's brother who is absent in the story except through memories, has such depth. I can just picture him out there, desperate to find out what happened to Rhine and to get her back, searching for her just as relentlessly as she is trying to escape and get back to him. I adore Rhine. She is such a doggedly steadfast and determined character. She sets her sights on something and she is relentless in the pursuit of it, despite the obstacles and temptations to abandon her goal. The relationship between the sister wives surprised me by being one of my favorite parts of the story. It captivated me. They're supportive and conspiratorial and conniving and damaged and they love each other as family. I cannot adequately express how much importance I find in positive female relationships in YA lit. And the characters all have flaws. They reside in gray areas, which makes them feel so realistically human. I savored every little tidbit of character development because each new thing I discovered about a character was like a punch in the gut. My heart would break. My anger would flare up. I'd feel a sudden sympathy that didn't exist previously. The villain is vile and creepy with a legitimate motivation, and he is surrounded by enough mystery to let the imagination run wild with what sorts of evil he is capable of, which just makes him that much more terrifying. I LOVE the characters.
The plot is interesting and creepy and frightening and hopeless and everything else that the description suggests. Rhine is driven by her determined need to escape and live out her final years in freedom rather than captivity. The pacing is steady. It is not rushed, and I also never felt like I hit a slow point - probably because the character development kept me so hooked. The ending leaves the reader satisfied and there is some resolution there, while still leaving the plot with important issues that need to be addressed and resolved in future books. So this is not just half of a story that is going to leave you feeling cheated out of any sort of closure. In fact, it could have ended right there as a standalone novel and I'd have been satisfied. Don't get me wrong, though - I'm still impatiently waiting for the second book and hoping it's just as awesome!
This book is amazing. The characters are amazing. If you haven't read it, you should stop wasting your time reading this and go read Wither right now!