The second book in The Chemical Garden Trilogy reveals a world as captivating—and as dangerous—as the one Rhine left behind in Wither.
Rhine and Gabriel have escaped the mansion, but they’re still in danger. Outside, they find a world even more disquieting than the one they left behind.
Determined to get to Manhattan and find Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan, the two press forward, amid threats of being captured again…or worse.
The road they are on is long and perilous—and in a world where young women only live to age twenty and men die at age twenty-five, time is precious. In this sequel to Lauren DeStefano’s harrowing Wither, Rhine must decide if freedom is worth the price—now that she has more to lose than ever.
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WE RUN, with water in our shoes and the smell of the ocean clinging to our frozen skin.
I laugh, and Gabriel looks at me like I’m crazy, and we’re both out of breath, but I’m able to say, “We made it,” over the sound of distant sirens. Seagulls circle over us impassively. The sun is melting down into the horizon, setting it ablaze. I look back once, long enough to see men pulling our escape boat to shore. They’ll be expecting passengers, but all they’ll find are the empty wrappers from the packaged sweets we ate from the boat owner’s stash. We abandoned ship before we reached the shore, and we felt for each other in the water and held our breath and hurried away from the commotion.
Our footprints emerge from the ocean, like ghosts are roaming the beach. I like that. We are the ghosts of sunken countries. We were once explorers when the world was full, in a past life, and now we’re back from the dead.
We come to a mound of rocks that forms a natural barrier between the beach and the city, and we collapse in its shadows. From where we’re huddled we can hear men shouting commands to one another.
“There must have been a sensor that tripped the alarm when we got close to shore,” I say. I should have known that stealing the boat had been too easy. I’ve set enough traps in my own home to know that people like to protect what’s theirs.
“What happens if they catch us?” Gabriel says.
“They don’t care about us,” I say. “Someone paid a lot of money to make sure that boat is returned to them, I bet.”
My parents used to tell me stories about people who wore uniforms and kept order in the world. I barely believed those stories. How can a few uniforms possibly keep a whole world in order? Now there are only the private detectives who are employed by the wealthy to locate stolen property, and security guards who keep the wives trapped at luxurious parties. And the Gatherers, of course, who patrol the streets for girls to sell.
I collapse against the sand, faceup. Gabriel takes my shivering hand in both of his. “You’re bleeding,” he says.
“Look.” I cant my head skyward. “You can already see the stars coming through.”
He looks; the setting sun lights up his face, making his eyes brighter than I’ve ever seen, but he still looks worried. Growing up in the mansion has left him permanently burdened. “It’s okay,” I tell him, and pull him down beside me. “Just lie with me and look at the sky for a while.”
“You’re bleeding,” he insists. His bottom lip is trembling.
He holds up my hand, enclosed in both of his. Blood is dripping down our wrists in bizarre little river lines. I must have sliced my palm on a rock as we crawled to shore. I roll up my sleeve so that the blood doesn’t ruin the white cabled sweater that Deirdre knitted for me. The yarn is inlaid with diamonds and pearls—the very last of my housewife riches.
Well, those and my wedding ring.
A breeze rolls up from the water, and I realize at once how numb the cold air and wet clothes have made me. We should find someplace to stay, but where? I sit up and take in our surroundings. There’s sand and rocks for several more yards, but beyond that I can see the shadows of buildings. A lone freight truck lumbers down a faraway road, and I think soon it’ll be dark enough for Gatherer vans to start patrolling the area with their lights off. This would be the perfect place for them to hunt; there don’t appear to be any streetlights, and the alleyways between those buildings could be full of scarlet district girls.
Gabriel, of course, is more concerned about the blood. He’s trying to wrap my palm with a piece of seaweed, and the salt is burning the wound. I just need a minute to take this all in, and then I’ll worry about the cut. This time yesterday I was a House Governor’s bride. I had sister wives. At the end of my life, my body would have ended up with the wives who’d died before me, on a rolling cart in my father-in-law’s basement, for him to do only he knows what.
But now there’s the smell of salt, sound of the ocean. There’s a hermit crab making its way up a sand dune. And something else, too. My brother, Rowan, is somewhere out here. And there’s nothing stopping me from getting home to him.
I thought the freedom would excite me, and it does, but there’s terror, too. A steady march of what-ifs making their way through all of my deliciously attainable hopes.
What if he’s not there?
What if something goes wrong?
What if Vaughn finds you?
What if . . .
“What are those lights?” Gabriel asks. I look where he’s pointing and see it too, a giant wheel of lights spinning lazily in the distance.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” I say.
“Well, someone must be over there. Come on.”
He pulls me to my feet and tugs my bleeding hand, but I stop him. “We can’t just go wandering off into lights. You don’t know what’s over there.”
“What’s the plan, then?” he asks.
The plan? The plan was only to escape. Accomplished. And now the plan is to reach my brother, a thought I romanticized over the sullen months of my marriage. He became almost a figment of my imagination, a fantasy, and the thought that I’ll be reunited with him soon makes me light-headed with joy.
I had thought we could at least make it to land dry, and during the daylight, but we ran out of fuel. And we’re losing daylight by the second; it’s not any safer here than anywhere else, and at least there are lights over there, eerie as they may be, spinning like that. “Okay,” I say. “We’ll check it out.”
The impromptu seaweed wrap seems to have staunched the bleeding. It’s so carefully tied that it’s amusing, and Gabriel asks what I’m smiling about as we walk. He is dripping wet and plastered with sand. His normally neat brown hair is in tangles. Yet he still seems to be searching for order, some logical course of action. “It’s going to be okay, you know,” I tell him.
He squeezes my good hand.
The January air is in a fury, kicking up sand and howling through my drenched hair. The streets are full of trash, something rustling in a mound of it, and a single flickering streetlight has come on. Gabriel wraps his arm around me, and I’m not sure which of us he means to comfort, but my stomach is churning with the early comings of fear.
What if a gray van comes lumbering down that dark road?
There are no houses nearby—just a brick building that was maybe once a fire department half a century ago, with broken and boarded windows. And a few other crumbling things that are too dark for me to make out. I could swear that things are moving in the alleys.
“Everything looks so abandoned,” Gabriel says.
“Funny, isn’t it?” I say. “Scientists were so determined to fix us, and when we all started dying, they just left us here to rot, and the world around us too.”
Gabriel makes a face that could be perceived as disdain or pity. He has spent most of his life in a mansion, where he may have been a servant, but at least things were well-constructed, clean, and reasonably safe. If you avoided the basement, that is. This dilapidated world must be a shock.
The circle of light in the distance is surrounded by bizarre music, something hollow and brassy masquerading as cheerful. “Maybe we should go back,” Gabriel says when we get to the chain-link fence surrounding it. Beyond the fence I can see tents illuminated by candlelight.
“Go back to what?” I say. I’m shivering so hard, I can barely get the words out.
Gabriel opens his mouth to speak, but the words are lost by my own scream, because someone is grabbing my arm and pulling me through an opening in the fence.
All I can think is, Not again, not like this, and then my wound is bleeding again and my fist is hurting because I’ve just hit someone. I’m still hitting when Gabriel pulls me away, and we try to run, but we’re being overpowered. More figures are coming out of the tents and grabbing our arms, waists, legs, even my throat. I can feel the skin bunching under my nails, and someone’s skull crashing against mine, and then I’m dizzy, but some otherworldly thing keeps me violently moving in my own defense. Gabriel is yelling my name, telling me to fight, but it doesn’t do any good. We’re being dragged toward that spinning circle of light, where an old woman is laughing, and the music doesn’t stop.
What People are Saying About This
"Rhine's struggles and pain are real, and her story is both heartbreaking and hopeful. I couldn't read this book fast enough."
Beth Revis, NY Times Bestselling Author of Across the Universe
DeStefano’s rich use of language helps set this dystopian tale apart.
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to
by Lauren DeStefano
Guide written by Pam B. Cole, Professor of English Education & Literacy, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA
1. Is freedom a right or privilege?
2. Is freedom worth fighting for?
3. To what extent will individuals go to be free? Discuss examples.
1. Having stolen a boat, Rhine and Gabriel are on the run. From whom are they running and why? Where are they planning to go?
2. Describe Madame Soleski and the carnival world she rules. Why does she hold Rhine and Gabriel hostage?
3. In what way is Rhine different from the other girls under Madame Soleski’s care? How do the other girls and boys treat Rhine and Gabriel?
4. Who is Maddie and how does she become separated from her mother? Why is she a vital character in the story?
5. Maddie is a young child, yet she has learned to be resourceful to survive. Cite evidence from the text to support this statement.
6. Why does Lilac want to leave with Maddie? Does she make a good decision in attempting to leave? Explain.
7. How do Rhine and Gabriel manage to escape from Madame Soleski? Might they have been able to escape on their own? Did they make a wise decision to run? Support your answer with evidence from the text.
8. In desperation Rhine and Gabriel seek shelter at the home of Annabelle, a fortune teller. In what way does Annabelle help Rhine, Gabriel, and Maddie. Why do they not stay longer?
9. How do Rhine, Gabriel, and Maddie travel to Manhattan?
10. Greg and Elsa, a couple who own a restaurant, give Rhine, Gabriel, and Maddie a room for the night. How does the couple seem odd?
11. Why does Gabriel take money from the restaurant’s cash register? Was he wrong for doing so? Explain.
12. When Rhine and Gabriel reach Rhine’s former home in Manhattan, what has happened to her home? Where is her brother, Rowan?
13. Why do Rhine, Gabriel, and Maddie go to Grace’s Orphanage? What do they learn there and how are they received by Grace?
14. Describe Grace Lottner. Why does she take in children at the orphanage?
15. Why does Rhine feel guilty about taking Gabriel along on her escape from the mansion? Why does Gabriel go with her, and does he have any regrets? If he could take back his decision, would he have stayed in the mansion?
16. Why does Silas seem to disapprove of Rhine and Gabriel staying at the orphanage? What guilt does he harbor and why?
17. Rhine becomes seriously ill with a fever. Why is she ill? What will save her?
18. When Vaughn comes for Rhine in Manhattan, why does she return to the mansion with him without a fight? What surprises await her there?
19. How does Linden react to the news of his father’s experiments and how he has been treating Rhine?
20. What happens to Rhine after she returns to her father-in-law’s mansion? Who comes to her aid and why?
21. The author has Rhine remember eating June Beans and how the thought of them is a pleasant memory. Why is this reference necessary in the early part of the story?
22. What symbolism can you associate with the title, Fever?
Questions for Further Discussion
1. Rhine has been held hostage in a lavish mansion and escapes only to find herself held hostage in a dilapidated carnival world under Madame Soleski’s rule. Is one world better than the other? Explain.
2. The reader captures snippets of information about Rhine’s sister wives in the story. Describe her relationship with each and support your response with evidence from the text.
3. Readers come to believe that Rhine’s brother may be dead or that Rhine may not be able to locate him. Yet the story ends with her seeing an image of him on a news channel. How does this last scene contribute to the story?
4. Rhine’s father-in-law, Vaughn, manages to track her to Madame Soleski and later to Manhattan; however, the story contains scant information about how Vaughn plots to recapture her. What plausible explanation does the author give for his ability to trail her? Without this simplistic, yet credible explanation, how would the author have needed to write some parts of the story differently?
5. What happens to Gabriel in the story? In what way might he play a part in a future sequel?
6. How does Rhine feel about Linden, her husband? Is he a good person? Why or why not? Support your answer with information from the text.
7. Metaphor is a technique used by authors to create more vivid descriptions. Rhine describes herself as “a corpse on a rolling cart”. How is this description fitting? Identify two other examples of metaphors that paint a vibrant picture and explain why you chose them.
8. Mood is the feeling a story creates. How does the author use setting to create mood? What mood does the story evoke? Cite phrases from the story to support your response.
9. Readers learn from Rhine that she had a close relationship with her twin brother, Rowan. Though she speaks of him in the story, he does not enter any scenes. Discuss the types of scenes that could be used to tell Rowan’s story after he and Rhine are separated.
10. Define dystopia. In what way is this story a dystopia? What can we infer about the idea of a “perfect” world from reading this story? Support your response with information from the text.
11. The setting of the story is futuristic. DeStefano develops this setting, in part, by letting the reader know that items such as iPods are “antique.” Find other evidence that places the story in the future.
12. The story is based on the idea that genetic engineering has perfected the human race; however, in doing so, it has also produced a deadly virus that kills young girls at the age of twenty and young men when they reach twenty-five. Discuss the pros and cons of genetic engineering. Support your answer with evidence from this text as well as evidence from an informational source of your choice.