By Lauren DeStefano
Genre: Young Adult
Published 2011, Simon & Schuster BFYR
Hardback, 358 pages
By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking 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 kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. 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 is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape--before her time runs out?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?The world that Lauren DeStefano builds in this book combines several dystopian concepts - genetic engineering and reproduction, a virus of epic proportions, anarchy and survival of the fittest. 70 years ago mankind finds a way to make "perfect" babies, and then their babies suffer the consequences - death at 25 for men and 20 for women - with no cure on the horizon. Prostitution, polygamy, human experimentation, wide-scale murder, the prevalence of orphanages, and a country divided on whether mankind is worth saving are all issues in the plot. Plus, all of this takes place after a world war has destroyed all but North America - or so the history goes.
The main character, Rhine Ellery, is forced into a polygamous marriage at the age of 16 to the rich Linden, age 21, along with the flighty 14-year-old Cecily and ex-prostitute, 18-year-old Jenna. Rhine's main goal is escape, but each girl in the marriage has her own motivations and goals. I found their relationships with one another far more interesting than each one's relationship with Linden. Poor Linden lives under the illusions that his aging father feeds him while suffering from the loss of his first love, Rose. While Rhine makes part of her goal to avoid consummating the marriage with Linden, her sister wives have other ideas, but ironically, jealousy among the wives is not the green-eyed monster that I think many would expect. While Cecily is typically self-absorbed and high maintenance, she still wants her sister-wives to bear children, and even Jenna, who hates Linden from the first day, sees no hypocrisy in sharing a bed with him. I also admired Rhine for her extreme patience and endurance with Cecily's immature and naive behavior, though I don't think I would have chosen denial over full disclosure to both Cecily and Linden.
Rhine's secret relationship seems to find it's power in free-formed friendship, without any expectations or requirements. Simply put, Rhine wants her freedom, and she will find it in any form she can grasp. Except for Rhine's memories, almost the entire book takes place on the grounds of Linden's mansion, so I am anxious to see what will happen in the next book in the series, Fever.
The Cover: It's the cover that really interested me enough to read this book, not just the girl and the dress, but the graphic design - so very unique.
First Lines: "I wait. They keep us in the dark for so long that we lose sense of our eyelids. We sleep huddled together like rats, staring out, and dream of our bodies swaying."
A beginning that is both dark and enticing, I am thoroughly intrigued.
Favorite Quote: “Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.”
Read For: Young Adult Challenge, Dystopia Challenge