May 23, 2012

Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Published: 2011, HarperTeen
Series: Delirium, #1
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia, Fantasy
Source: Library book

That’s what Hana doesn’t understand, has never understood. For some of us, it’s about more than the deliria. Some of us, the lucky ones, will get the chance to be reborn: newer, fresher, better. Healed and whole and perfect again, like a misshapen slab of iron that comes out of the fire glowing, glittering, razor sharp.

That is all I want - all I have ever wanted. That is the promise of the cure.

In a future United States, love has become enemy number one. All of society's bad decisions and troublesome thoughts can be attributed to infections of amor deliria nervosa, or so the government would have everyone believe. In order to make society safer and better, the "cure" for this sickness is that once people reach their eighteenth birthday, they undergo a surgery where all of their emotions are dulled so that love can no longer rule their actions.

All of her life, Lena has been living with the fear that she'll become infected, just like her mother was. Just like her sister was. But her sister was cured and now is able to live a normal life, while her mother resisted and eventually committed suicide. Lena worries that whatever was wrong with her mother could have been passed on to her, so she is counting down the days until her own operation. But on her examination day, only months before her procedure, something unexpected happens. And she, of all people, falls in love. And not just with any boy, but with an uncured boy from the society outside of the town that does not believe in the operation. As her own operation day approaches rapidly, Lena begins to question the government's view of amor deliria nervosa and the beliefs she's held onto for the entirety of her life thus far.

Can I first say that I loved this premise of Lauren Oliver’s Delirium? The idea of a dystopia creating the ideal environment for forbidden love is not a new one by any means, but it was interesting to see a society where love, of all things, is blamed for all of the societal problems.

I actually liked Lena as the protagonist. She's not the most exciting narrator but, unlike with some other YA books, Lena's blandness made sense. At the beginning of the book she completely buys into the indoctrination of the government. Love is bad. She fears getting infected. She wants her surgery done as fast as possible. It is refreshing that Lena is not a rebel from day one. I feel like so many dystopian books want to focus on those who know that the governmental system is flawed from the beginning. Yes, I would have had a problem with Lena if she did not eventually come to this conclusion, but it was nice to be privy to Lena's evolving thoughts and beliefs.

With that being said, I do wish there was even more of a struggle for Lena to figure out what she believes in. I felt as though she went from a complete product of society, unable to even listen to any of her friend Hana's words that everything in their society isn't perfect, to a rebel rather quickly. And then, once she meets Alex, she is willing to sneak off to parties, stay out past curfew, and have illicit meetings with a boy. It does take Lena a while to fully understand her society's flaws, but even before she accepts those flaws she is willing to break laws and do things that she consistently has been told are bad. Why? I don't feel like there was enough introspection on Lena's part to justify her behavior changes. It was convenient for the story to progress, but didn't seem entirely realistic to me.

Although this book is definitely a love story and focuses on the romantic relationship between Lena and Alex, Oliver does mention other types of love. Lena has been struggling to reconcile her mother's actions for years. She knew it was wrong that her mother cared so deeply for Lena and her sister Rachel. She knew that her mother was unhappy so much of the time, that she was unable to get past some of her feelings. And yet Lena enjoyed the feelings that came along with knowing that she was loved. Over the course of the book, Lena realizes just how much she'll lose from her life if she undergoes this operation and can no longer feel love not only for Alex, but also for her best friend Hana or even her little cousin Grace. Not only is romantic love at stake in Oliver's dystopian world, but all forms of strong relationships between people. Oliver could have made this book just about romantic love, but it becomes stronger and resonated so much more for me to think about how many different ways humans experience feelings akin to love.

I loved the excerpts of official documents, nursery rhymes, The Book of Shh, and other forms of literature that were at the beginning of each chapter. They helped give a little more context to the society and its overall mentality towards love. They still were not enough for me to fully contextualize this society, however.  Some major questions that I had while reading the book had to do with the historical context and events that led the government to believe that love really was the cause of all problems. I mean, there had to have been something (or a few things) major that happened to cause the government to go from seeing love as merely undesirable into seeing it as a major threat. And I want to know why the people were so willing to go along with this interpretation of all society's evils.

Oliver clearly has a gift with words. Her writing style is very poetic. For me, however, it was not enough to cover up all the questions and skepticism that went along with my reading of the book. I will still read the sequel, Pandemonium, but I think right now I'm more interested in Oliver's debut novel, Before I Fall.
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.

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