Fever: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 2
What parents need to know
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.
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.
Families can talk 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?