A few weeks ago, I decided to check out the local library and sign up for a new library card. I was perusing the shelves, looking for some new reads and I stumbled upon Delirium by Lauren Oliver. I won’t lie, I’m drawn to covers first. Superficial, yes, but what can you do? If a book has an eye catching picture, beautiful script, or something otherwise unique, you can bet I’ll pick it up and investigate further. That’s test #1.
Test #2 is the plot description. It has to get my mind working. A lot of books work off the same premise, especially if there was a break out, best seller recently. There seems to be an avalanche of similar books and that can get old fast. I understand that with the volume of books available, both print and electronic, past and present, it’s pretty much impossible to write something that’s never been written before. That’s not what I’m saying. Inspiration by another author is a wonderful thing. I just like it when the book I’m reading doesn’t follow another so closely that I can guess what will happen a quarter of the way through reading.
Once I started reading Delirium, there were elements that reminded me of other books I’ve read but it was also different. It’s this slight spin that I found intriguing. Here’s what Lauren Oliver’s website has to say about Delirium:
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 government 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.
Delirium’s main character is Magdalena (Lena) Holloway – a 17 year old girl that’s living with her aunt, uncle, and cousins. She lost her parents when she was very young and that has affected her whole view on life. Her mother is presented as the prime example for why people should take the Cure. Love is akin to being mentally unstable. Having been forced to take the Cure multiple times and it being unsuccessful, Lena’s mother commits suicide. As a young child, this is definitive proof that Love is dangerous. Love is deadly. This idea is reinforced for the rest of her life through school, the government, and the way their society reacts to those that are “infected”. There is even a book called ‘The Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook’, or ‘The Book of Shhh’ for short. It’s essentially the country’s Bible and it outlines how a good citizen should live their life. Families that don’t follow the strict social construct are shamed because someone in that family was irresponsible and contracted Amor Deliria Nervosa or because they were considered Sympathizers. Lena, herself, was teased relentlessly after her mother’s death and started going by her aunt’s name – Tiddle. She’s also terrified that she’s just like her mother so she goes to great lengths to not break any rules.
As I mentioned before, it’s hard to write a book with elements that have never been done. Delirium is no different. It reminded me a lot of The Giver. Amor Deliria Nervosa is said to be responsible for all the failings of a human being. Everything from passion to greed to anger, lust, and jealousy are attributed to the disease. By curing the population of love, people no longer feel any of these negative emotions that, according to the world leaders, have caused all the problems. As an extension of the required placidness and enforced peace, the government also chooses what career you’ll have, who you’ll marry, and how many kids you’ll have together. (Sound familiar?) The adults are described as drones, mere shells of who they were before taking the Cure. Friendships are non-existent and familial ties are obligations defined by mandatory visits penciled in to the calendar. Nothing is simply because they want to do it or enjoy it. Lena is perfectly fine with this fate. She sees the steady monotony, juxtaposed against her mother’s erratic behavior and moods, as comforting. There is no fear or pain or heartache. She only begins to question things after she meets Alex.
I fell in love with Alex. There’s clearly a back story, and he hints at some of it, but it’s never completely revealed in this book. I’ve heard that Ms. Oliver has written a book dedicated to him and illuminating what makes him tick, so I might check it out in the future. Without giving too much away, Alex is what is considered an Invalid, or someone that has not had the Cure. He comes from the Wilds, the lands on the other side of the Boundary Fence. The Wilds are said to be home to heathens and murders and people not far removed from animals. At first, Lena is uncomfortable around him because Uncured boys and girls that are not related are not supposed to be around each other unsupervised. Imagine going you’re whole life and not talking to or even touching the opposite sex! However, he has scars that are similar to people that have been Cured so she begins to believe he is “safe” and opens up around him. Eventually, Lena learns the truth but by then she’s already started to like Alex as a friend. Through him, Lena learns to break out of her shell. He shows her the world as he sees it – full of color and poetry and caring. She can be herself with Alex and tell him about all her fears, the desire to be nothing like her mother; insane, selfish, and unstable. The more their relationship progresses though, the more she questions what she’s always known to be true. Things like, “Is it really better to not care about anything? What really drove her mother to jump off that cliff? Do I really want my whole life planned out for me?” Her biggest epiphany comes when she crosses the fence that surrounds their community.
In the end, Lena must make a choice: Turn her back on all she’s ever known and embrace what she’s always been told is the epitome of destruction… Or stay, as she knows she should, as she’s been taught to believe, and become a responsible member of society. Can she turn her back on Alex and her friends? Is she ready to accept all that she learns about her mother? Will she be able to submit to a boy she barely knows and is not attracted to simply because he was chosen for her? Can she turn a blind eye to all she’s learned about the government and their control over the people?
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Delirium. I did not love Lena nearly as much as I loved Alex (I found her whiny and frustratingly insecure at times) and that’s the main reason why I gave this book 4 Stars on my Goodreads page instead of 5. Fortunately, it is a series; the next book being Pandemonium. Hopefully Lena will grow a little back bone! I would absolutely suggested it to readers that loved The Giver because it has a very similar “utopian society that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be” theme. Personally, I don’t know how I could give up Love in any of its forms. But that’s a discussion for another time.
(Currently, I have a couple other books in my TBR cue but stay tuned for my review of Pandemonium later this year.)