Sever: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 3

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Sever: The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Lackluster end to mature, excessively mopey series.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Like the rest of the trilogy, Sever shows what could happen when society breaks down, and could spark discussion about authors' many visions of dystopia. It could also provoke discussion of medical ethics.

Positive Messages

There's a lot here about the ethics of human experiments. Can they be justified on unwilling or unknowing subjects if the end result is a cure for a disease that has brought down civilization? Would you allow handfuls of others to suffer to save just one person you loved?

Positive Role Models & Representations

In the previous trilogy installments, Wither and Fever, Rhine struggles desperately for her freedom, but she lacks that resolve in Sever. But she does make a selfless choice and supports those close to her. Vaughn, the villain who manipulates everyone, shows a little more heart here but not enough to make anything he's done acceptable.


Two significant characters die and another has a life-threatening late miscarriage that's well described, including talk of what the fetus would have looked like at that stage. Buildings are bombed in protest, guns are fired, and experiments are done on humans with needles in the eyes and drugging. There's talk of past experiments that caused sad deaths of those close to the main character and a virus that killed off others. The dystopian society is caused by a virus that kills off everyone by age 25, age 20 for women.


A few kisses. Rhine returns to the brothel from Fever and recalls her forced, drugged performances there (short of sex). Talk of the other girls who still work there.


Very mild and not beyond "hell."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Reed smokes and gets yelled at by Cecily for smoking around her child. Some characters get sleeping pills in their food. Rhine gets drugged for a procedure and recalls being forcefully drugged in Fever.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sever is the conclusion of the dystopian Chemical Garden Trilogy for mature teens, which began with Wither. The sexual content isn't as high as the second book, Fever, where the main character was forced to "perform" at a brothel (short of sex) but there are still plenty of adult themes. A teen character has a late miscarriage (described) and the loss is heavily mourned. Two significant characters die violently, and there's lots of talk about others dying all around them -- society has broken down because a virus kills off everyone by age 25. The experiments conducted on humans to cure the virus (some described) could lead to a thought-provoking discussion on medical ethics.

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What's the story?

Recovering in the hospital from fever and infection, Rhine is almost back where she started when she ran away from her forced marriage to Linden to find her twin brother. Linden and his other wife Cecily -- 14 and pregnant a second time -- are at her bedside trying to understand the accusations Rhine makes against Linden's father; that he's using everyone as test subjects to find a cure for the virus that kills every \"new generation\" by age 25 -- 20 for women. Cecily is determined not to return to Vaughn's clutches, and they hide out at Vaughn's estranged and eccentric brother's house. That's where Rhine hears word that her twin is alive and starting a movement to bomb all research hospitals looking for a virus cure. When the trail finally leads to her brother, Rhine is surprised by his true motives.

Is it any good?

Yes, Book 1 was pretty provocative, but the intrigue had already fizzled out by Book 2; Book 2 was a rehash of Book 1, and now SEVER spends most of its time wallowing in Books 1 and 2. And moping. And reminiscing. And mourning.

There's so much time spent in the main character's head, moping and mourning, that there's no chance for the book to go anywhere except where they've all been before. (Did they really have to go back to the carnival brothel?) After three books, readers deserve a fuller picture of the dystopian world the author creates. Instead, you get some puzzling truces and sudden deaths to tie up the trilogy a little too conveniently.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the conclusion of the Chemical Garden Trilogy. Did you find it satisfying? Would you seek out another series like it? If so, what appeals to you about it? The dystopian setting? The provocative themes?

  • What other dystopian novels have you read? How is each author's vision different? How is it the same?

  • Do you feel for Vaughn, just as Rhine begins to? Do you think he's justified to experiment on humans without their consent? Do you understand why he decided to do it?

Book details

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For kids who love science fiction and dystopian stories

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