In this thought-provoking debut, reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale with a touch of Big Love, a generation of "perfectly engineered" embryos, known as the First Generation, has been watching its children die off from a virus that claims females at age 20 and males at age 25. Since her geneticist parents' death, 16-year-old narrator Rhine and her twin brother spend endless nights warding off homeless orphans from their Manhattan basement until she is kidnapped by Gatherers, who make a living collecting potential brides and selling them off to wealthy families to breed new children. Jenna arrives at a Florida compound, where she is locked away with two other "sister wives," and the three teens are forced to marry (and presumably procreate with) 20-year-old Linden. Through her similar appearance to Linden's first (and now dead) love, intriguing heterochromia (two different colored eyes) and acting abilities, Rhine achieves "First Wife" status as she plots an escape. Her situation becomes more urgent when she discovers an underground laboratory where her diabolical father-in-law performs gruesome experiments in the name of finding a cure. A taut present-tense narration ratchets up the suspense. Despite some holes in the plot, particularly in the rushed ending, Rhine's fight for freedom against the clock—and the dissecting table—will leave readers eager for the sequel. Give this one to fans of The Hunger Games trilogy or Ally Condie's Matched (2010). (Dystopia. YA)Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
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. (Mar.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC
Gr 9 Up--In the near future, genetic engineering has given a single generation freedom from all physical ills and a long life, but something claims the lives of successive generations as women reach 20 and men reach 25. Many of the first generation and their offspring are fabulously wealthy, but the rest of the population struggles for a living. Rhine Ellery is 16 when she is kidnapped from Manhattan and selected as a bride for Linden Ashby, along with 18-year-old Jenna and 13-year-old Cecily. Jenna seems to be resigned to her existence and naive Cecily is delighted by her situation, but Rhine is determined to escape from her "husband" and his mansion in Florida to return north to her twin brother, Rowan. She finds an ally and love interest in Gabriel, a servant who is as much a prisoner as Rhine. Linden's father, Vaughn, is the true power in the house, controlling his son through disinformation and the "brides" through fear and lies. Vaughn conducts research in the mansion's basement, searching for a cure, but Rhine and Jenna suspect something sinister behind his supposed altruism. As time goes by, Rhine begins to soften toward Linden, who proves to be gentle and artistic, but her determination to escape never wavers. She proves herself to be a heroine who faces her situation with spirit and cleverness. The trapped bride and mysterious husband are straight out of Gothic romances. By stirring in elements of sheer creepiness with dystopia and the hot topic of polygamy, DeStafano creates a story that should have broad appeal.--Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Library, Wisconsin Rapids, WI[Page 170]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.