In this first book of the Chemical Garden trilogy, Lauren DeStefano introduces readers to a world in which scientists [whose intention was to cure all disease] have accidentally shortened the human life span. Males only live to be 25, and females only live to be 20. Some people have hope that the older generation [who still have a normal life span] will be able to fix the problem, though many have given up hope, and it seems as though the entire world is falling apart. Young girls are routinely kidnapped and forced to work in brothels or to enter polygamous marriages so they can bear as many children as possible in an attempt to forestall the collapse of the human race. This is how we meet Rhine.
Rhine’s parents were scientists, and they died in an explosion created by protesters. She and her twin brother did their best to look out for one another, but she was still snatched off the street, transported several states away, and forced to marry a rich man named Linden. Rhine is determined to escape from her new life, despite the riches and extravagance now at her disposal, because she would rather live the remainder of her short life in freedom and with her only remaining family. She isn’t exactly sure how she might escape, let alone get back to her home and her brother, but Rhine knows she would rather die trying than give up and potentially become the subject of Linden’s father’s nefarious experiments.