Thursday, December 15, 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

So, in my review for Oliver’s famous Before I Fall, I know I mentioned that I did not enjoy reading that book as much as I thought I would. It had so much hype. And so many of my favorite reviewers/bloggers loved it. I thought I would love it too. It was not my favorite book. But, Oliver totally earned my respect for what she accomplished in her story. She proved to me that she was different from other YA authors. Also, I loved that she was not afraid to make her teens seem too selfish, mean, or egotistical. This made the whole thing seem more real to me. And that uniqueness got me really excited for this book: Delirium.
And the funny thing is it’s the exact opposite with this book. I feel like so much of this plot, romance, and concept has already been written before by other YA dystopia writers. There were moments when I really felt like pulling out Ally Condie’s Matched and Scott Westerfeld’s The Uglies from my shelves, and directly comparing them. But what Oliver kind of does here is pull together all the best dystopia elements from other stories and weaves them together to make her own. It’s kind of like what Rachel Hawkins and C.C. Hunter do with their combinations of supernatural elements I love. Oliver pulls in all the classic dystopia-government-control themes, adds in some serious against the rules romance, a lot of self discovery and disbelief in how terrible the world really is, and then finishes it off with all the good fighting for and standing up for what you know now is right stuff that makes me love this genre of YA lit so much.
Because these are elements I know and love, I really enjoyed reading this one. But, also, because I know these elements, things were rather predictable. Even the one thing that shocks the main character the most toward the end was something I guessed from the beginning. And I guess what I’m saying is that I wished I was a little more shocked than I was.
Any way, the story is about Lena, a girl counting down the days till she will be required to have a surgery. In her world, everyone has this surgery (after they turn 18). And what the surgery does is get rid of love. The government blames all the world’s prior problems on love: war, disease, rebellion, depression, suicide, pain, violence, and much more.  And this brain surgery takes away love. It also takes away pain and individuality, making everyone content. People get matched with partners for compatibility. And everyone lives within the confines of an electric gate, that separates them from anyone who might still be alive who has not been “cured.” They all talk about love like it an STD, or maybe something even more contagious.
Lena first looks forward to the surgery. Her mother killed herself because of the love disease, leaving her and her sister behind. And Lena, like the daughter of any crazy or diseased person, just doesn’t want to be like her mother. She wants to be safe. Her best friend, Hana, though, is starting to realize how restricting their situation is, and even gets Lena to go to an illegal party where boys and girls are actually hanging out together, and dancing together, and listening to music that isn’t approved for them. And then, Lena meets Alex.
Alex teaches Lena about everything the government would really be taking away from her with the surgery. He teaches her about love. And the months leading up to Lena’s surgery are marked with rule breaking, hiding, lying, and the most fun she’s ever had. Lena is always being watched, always being controlled and told what to do by her aunt. And between the constant surveillance, the crazy laws, the brutality of the government officers, the crypt, the illegal websites, the best friend drama, the falling in love, the government raids, and the escapes, there’s all the moments about coming to realize how wrong everything is.
The book is about learning to listen to yourself. It’s about control, and the right to make your own decision. And it’s about love and how when pain and suffering go, so do all the things that make you unique and genuinely happy as well. Before Lena and Hana go for their last exam (months before they are meant to have their “cure”), Hana runs back to Lena at the last second before her exam begins and says, “You can’t be really happy unless you’re unhappy sometimes. You know that, right?” And I haven’t thought about that line since I first read it, till now. It really does a nice job of summing up the whole book, of summing up what Lena needs to learn about herself and her mother. And again, I’m just so impressed with Oliver’s writing.
I loved that Oliver brings in all these romantic poems too. She starts each chapter either with familiar words from Lena’s world (about all the rules) or from famous words from ours, which are from love poems. I love that Lena’s mother was obsessed with the word, love. And I love that Alex could quote these poems. All of this really enforced the one the thing that did make this novel stand out: love being the main focus. And I don’t mean love, in a triangle, or soul mate kind of way. I mean instead of the world being what it was because of money, disease, zombies, running out of resources, etc., it was the way it was because people were afraid of love. So even though, there were so many typical and predictable things happening, this one element did kind of make the book stand out.
Lena was not my favorite main character, but I think that was intentional. And I give Oliver points for doing this again –giving me a main character that’s not easy to love, but hard to not want to keep reading about. I give this one a 9/10. And I really look forward to reading the sequel that comes out in a few months! This one does end with a cliffhanger, but I think I’d be a little disappointed if it didn’t.


  1. Hi Nori! I read this book directly after reading Condie's Crossed based on your recommendation. I agree that Oliver's work is more skillful than Condie's. The language is richer, the characters are more developed, even the world seems more genuine. But I also think that there is something that feels a little emotionally hollow about some of the newer utopia-turned-dystopia novels. Is it just me, or does it feel like the author is mocking the character a little when the character goes on and on and on about the horrors of love, freedom or self-determination? I mean, if you think about our world and governmental regulation, even the most hardcore patriots chaff a little at the idea of increased security measures at airports, tighter school lunch regulations or even something as potentially beneficial as a new vaccine requirement. Who embraces these things 100%? The best evil government dictators should hope for is apathy (or total distraction via something frivolous). But these are just my thoughts.

  2. Jennifer, you make such a good point! I never thought about how unrealistic it is for these characters to be 100% on any side of the spectrum. And I do think part of the fun for these authors is to mock their characters in some respect. Have you read Divergent by Veronica Roth? I would love to know what you think about that one!