Fever: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 2

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Fever: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Fatiguing sequel ups the sexual content.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows what could happen when society breaks down, and could spark discussion about authors' many visions of dystopia. But there's also some bad science here: The author supposes that the continents have shrunken considerably by sinking into the ocean. A little reading about plate tectonics and the density of oceanic plates vs. continental plates will show readers this can't happen anywhere close to the extent the author devises.

Positive Messages

Characters seek freedom at all costs, even if the outside world isn't pretty and carefully controlled and in fact is dangerous and very cruel; to be in control of your own destiny is more important. There's also plenty of discussion about life and death and what matters more when life is so short. Do you block out morbidity and engage in any pleasurable activity you can, or do you find a higher purpose and stick close to loved ones until the end? And when the stakes are this high -- the death of every new generation by age 25 -- do you let medical ethics go out the window?

Positive Role Models & Representations

Rhine's determination to reunite with her brother is admirable in a way, but she's not terribly resourceful and consequently puts friends in danger. Gabriel may be clueless about the outside world, but he helps Rhine hold things together. His only job seems to be as a silent support figure.


Rhine and Gabriel are held captive in a brothel, beaten up, and drugged repeatedly, then made to perform (not described). Rhine is also subjected to what's probably months of experiments while drugged; the drugged haze is described in detail along with hallucinations of the dead talking to her. The only procedure described is needles slowly inserted into her eyes. Talk of deformed children having been experimented on and cadavers of known characters being dissected. A child's arm is broken as she's beaten up. Rhine has flashbacks to vans gathering girls in the streets and the girls getting shot. She sees a girl with a bullet in her head lying in the street, and a few characters are shot in the brothel. Rhine is sexually assaulted; she's kissed and groped before she gets away. All new generations die young of a disease -- girls at 20, boys at 25.


The first third of the book takes place in a brothel. Customers watch Rhine and Gabriel "perform" in a cage, though only the first kiss is described. It's supposed that they have sex, though, because Madame gives Rhine birth control pills. Every night Rhine hears lots of giggling followed by signs that girls are off in tents with customers, grunting and such. A mention that men can, for a cheaper price, get girls who are in the tent already dying from the disease. Since birth control pills are hard to come by, girls have lots of babies in the brothel, babies who are raised around its activities. Some kisses later between Rhine and Gabriel, and a minor character is always in a backyard shed having trysts with his many admirers.


Language includes "whore," "bastard," and a few instances of "hell."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Madame smokes, as does another minor character, and she's always on a form of opium called angel's blood. Rhine and Gabriel are drugged in the brothel with angel's blood, and it gives Gabriel a long, painful withdrawal, complete with morbid hallucinations. A man is drunk when he tries to force himself on Rhine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that even if they were fine letting their teen read Wither, the first book in this dystopian trilogy, they might think twice about the sexual content in Fever. The first third of the book takes place in a brothel, where the main character, Rhine, is forced to "perform" with her fellow runaway, Gabriel, in a cage. Only kissing is described, but the madam gives Rhine birth control pills before her first show. Rhine and Gabriel are kept in a drugged haze the whole time, and Gabriel suffers a terrible withdrawal after their escape. Rhine's drama doesn't end there, though. She's also subjected to a number of horrible medical experiments against her will, the whole time hallucinating about the dead and very ill. There's not a happy moment in this book, even as the idea of freedom at all costs comes up, and good characters work hard to look out for one another in dismal circumstances. They're still living in a semi-lawless world where all new generations die by age 25.

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What's the story?

After Rhine and Gabriel escape the sheltered world of the Florida mansion, their freedom from Housemaster Vaughn -- and Rhine's forced marriage to his son, Linden -- is short-lived. They've landed their boat outside some old carnival grounds taken over by a madam, her armed guards, and tents full of girls forced into prostitution. Madame is ready to kill off Gabriel at first but finds a use for him performing with Rhine every night while customers watch. (Madame supposes that Rhine is beautiful enough to excite men with the idea that they can't have her.) Escaping isn't easy, especially when heavily drugged with opiates, but the moment finally comes, and a deformed child named Maddie escapes with them. A dangerous road trip ensues and finally lands them in Manhattan, where they learn that Rhine's beloved twin brother is gone. How will she find him now -- especially when Rhine mysteriously falls ill and knows somehow that Housemaster Vaughn and his experiments are at fault?

Is it any good?

Many readers loved the mystery and intrigue of the provocative first book in the Chemical Garden series, Wither; unfortunately, FEVER just feels like a recap. The main character spends her whole escape talking about what happened before she escaped and in her childhood and how she feels about it -- and of course she's horribly depressed about it all. So it's a long slog through 100 pages of the opiate-hazy brothel, then a sleepy road trip with only one close escape, only to not find her brother in Manhattan.

And for most of the book, someone is drugged or sick or strapped to a table and experimented on, hallucinating even more things about the past. There are no new revelations whatsoever; there's no higher goal, it seems, than finding Rhine's twin, and no new layer of mystery to keep readers guessing. That's pretty essential for the second in a trilogy. Chances are readers will be too fatigued by this one for the finale.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about dystopian reads. Do you gravitate toward stories like this? Why do you think they're so popular with teens? Do you think the dystopian world is what draws teen readers to this series, or is it something else?

  • The subject matter is definitely provocative: everyone dying young, girls sold to brothels or as wives to wealthy men. And even if all the sexual activity isn't described, the running of the brothel is. Do you think this book crosses a line in teen literature? Or do you think most teen books aren't provocative enough for mature teen readers?

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