March 4, 2011

Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver


 Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -- the deliria -- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
    - Alfred Lord Tennyson

I’m going to get to the relevance to Tennyson’s poem in just a second but first: 

This book really needs a health advisory note on the cover: “WARNING: Do not read if you have a history of high blood pressure, hypertension or have experienced an anxiety attack. It is advisable to indulge in a glass of wine or a xanax before reading. If at any point during the reading of this story you start to feel heart palpitations, difficulty breathing or a numbness in any of your extremities, please put the book aside and seek medical attention.”

I have just done my public service duty for the month. 

Talk about a RIDE. This book is pretty much a non-stop roller coaster. Even when you get to the end you feel like you are still on a downhill dip waiting for the next turn and hoping that the tracks begin to plateau. But guess what? That doesn’t happen. The story not only leads you through the trials and tribulations of the main character and her torment and struggle over trying to fit in and be “normal” following a tragic event in her family or for her to follow her heart which leads her down a dangerous path, but it literally pushes and pulls you through the scenes like a runaway car. You are being dragged through this story, a little against your will, because you fear so much for Lena and her plight.

the Love Wall
Lauren Oliver’s book, Delirium dares to ask us all the questions that Tennyson poses in his poem: if we had a choice to never feel the heartbreak that love sometimes brings us, would we chose to cure ourselves from the pain? And to take that further, the books asks: what if we had no choice? What if we were raised in a society where heartbreak is eliminated but so is love? Why wouldn’t we want to be cured of something deemed so toxic to us that it threatens our sanity and our life? So begins the heartbreaking story of Lena and her coming of age discovery of her family, of herself and of love. Lena is faced with a future of utmost certainty. She lives in a country (the US, it seems) where the borders are closed on all sides no one in, no one out, all in the name of national security and protection. She knows that a few months from now when she turns 18 she will have the procedure that will make her brain unable to recognize and express love and then she will be matched up to a boy that also has had the same procedure and they are to be married. Just like her parents, her sister, and her aunt and uncle before her have. Most of the “cureds” that Lena knows seem to be well adjusted functioning members of society and claim that they are much happier after the procedure. But there’s a pestering thought in the back of her mind that the way her society conducts their lives may not be the right way. That thought festers into a full blown anarchy when she meets -- and falls in love -- with Alex.

Yes, yes, yes...another dystopian romance novel. You think that after The Hunger Games and Matched I’d finally had enough. Well, apparently not. I guess I’m a masochist for these kinds of stories. Put a young girl in an impossible situation against a giant conglomerate and let’s see how she fares! Oh and make her fall in love, too! Wheee! The comparisons to Ally Condie’s Matched and to a lesser extent, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, are well warranted. They are books in the same genre, after all. What sets Delirium apart from the other two series is a constant sense of hopelessness that eats away at you as you read. It really is a bleak existence to live in when you know the best part of your life will be a feeling you will be forbidden from experiencing or expressing. Even during some of the more lighthearted moments between Lena and Alex you are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Lena, as a character is hard to relate to. She very much is in the belief that her society’s way is the best way and even when she is happy with Alex she still considers the procedure as an inevitability in her life. This is hard to accept because you want her to be the rebellious heroine from the get go. But she actually, quite reluctantly, fills those due time. And even at the end you’re not sure what her next steps will be. In a way, I like a character with a little mystery that keeps you guessing, but this story already weaves so many “what ifs” into it that this seems to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Don’t get me wrong, I like Lena, but she frustrates me all the same. However, her inner turmoil and her struggle is contrasted by her true escape from it all in the moments she shares with Alex. Their relationship is forbidden and punishable, but they carry on knowing the consequences and that makes for very exciting storytelling.

Above all, for a book whose main focus is to erase love and emotion from one’s psyche, there are moments that are filled with such unbelievable emotion that you find yourself shaking in it’s aftermath. How the words “Mommy” have such amazing resonance that you are unable to read further through the blur of tears in your eyes. And how one young girl’s struggle to find herself becomes not only a race for her life but a race for the future of all people in her society. A heart wrenching read that will have you tearing your hair out by the last sentence in anticipation of the long wait until the next book in this trilogy is released. 

Lauren Oliver is the author of the widely popular young adult novel, Before I Fall. Delirium is the first book in the three book series. The next book is called Pandemonium and will be out in February, 2012.

Happy reading,


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