Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Goodreads: “They say that the cure for Love will make me happy and safe forever.
And I’ve always believed them.

Until now.

Now everything has changed.

Now, I’d rather be infected with love for the tiniest sliver of a second than live a hundred years smothered by a lie.

Lena looks forward to receiving the government-mandated cure that prevents the delirium of love and leads to a safe, predictable, and happy life, until ninety-five days before her eighteenth birthday and her treatment, when she falls in love.”

I wanted to review Delirium, the first book of its trilogy, separately from the other two because I felt that this is a much stronger book than its sequels, so it deserves to be reviewed on its own merit.

There is a pretty implausible premise, here, that you just have to accept and move on if you’re going to enjoy this book. I’m pretty good at willing suspension of disbelief, so I dove right in and took Oliver at her word that in the future, we’ve decided that love — and the litter of hot-blooded emotions it inspires — is a disease that we can cure. The cure has resulted in a society that seems to be on its surface much more peaceful, efficient, productive, and obedient. Of course, we know that this can’t be true, because this is a dystopian novel, so early on we also learn that there are Uncureds and Invalids, or people who have been literally “invalidated” in society by refusing the cure. Furthermore, administration of the cure has been demonstrated to be unsafe before the age of 18, but anyone who has ever met a teenager knows that they are pretty good at falling in love or something like it before the age of 18. As such, there are many small acts of rebellion among the as-yet-uncured youth that need to be discovered and squashed by violent patrol groups of cured adults called Regulators. In case it’s not perfectly clear, the violence that these groups employ is evidence that simply “curing” love doesn’t stamp out our most base tendencies.

At its bare bones, this is a story about forbidden love: forbidden because love itself is, and because the boy Lena falls in love with is an Uncured, and the only way they could be together is if Lena rejects her arranged match and flees to the Wilds, territory that has been given up by the regulated society. The story is elevated, in my mind, firstly by Oliver’s prose, which is really beautiful and descriptive and appropriately fraught with teen anxiety (though it doesn’t come off as too whiny or excessively dramatic, just urgent.) She has a way of drawing me right into Lena’s thoughts such that I don’t feel like I’m just observing the action, but that I’m actually in it. Secondly, I think Oliver has written a love interest who is actually compelling beyond just being attractive: there is that tantalizing hint of danger to him, but Alex is also clever, respectful, and protective of Lena without being overbearing. He understands her and the peril she puts herself in simply by being with him, so he never tries to push her too far. He actually seems to love her back, rather than just trying to seduce her into his way of life. While in many other tortured love YA stories I’m just supposed to accept that this is deep, epic love for some reason, having Lena’s love seem real, justified, and reciprocated makes the decisions she makes more relate-able. Taken with Oliver’s engrossing prose, it really does have the effect of making you feel like you are the one falling in love.

The hardest thing about writing a review for this book is that I would really highly recommend it, except that you really can’t just read it on its own. It was written with the sequels in mind, and the sequels are, well, not bad, but just unsatisfying. I don’t want to doom anyone to that frustration, so I guess the best thing I can say is that for me, it was still worth it. If, even knowing how I would feel by the end of book 3, I got to go back and choose whether or not to read the Delirium series again, I would still do it for the thrall of this first book.

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