Delirium by Lauren Oliver

After enduring finishing Moby Dick last week, I needed some book candy to refresh my mind, and so took to the Kobo and downloaded Delirium, a book that had caught my eye in a Goodreads thread back in February.

Once again, I turn to dystopian fiction to cheer me up. I don’t want to think about what this could say about me.

The premise of the book captured me within milliseconds of reading the plot summary. In Delirium, the United States has declared love (or amor deliria nervosa) a disease, and outlawed it. (Think about the problems it causes – who hasn’t wanted to rip their heart out of their chest and “never love again” at least once?)

All citizens must receive the lobotomy-like cure at the age of eighteen, and settle into practical, passion-free lives with their state appointed life partners.

Schools are segregated. Socializing between the sexes is strictly forbidden among the uncured. Music and books are censored. There is no mention or celebration of love. Romeo and Juliet is taught in the schools not as a romance, but as a cautionary tale.

Borders are closed. No one enters or leaves the country. Everyone lives in approved cities – except the Invalids, who oppose the state and live in the Wilds. Of course, no one talks openly about the Invalids, and the state tries to pretend they don’t actually exist.

Our main character is Lena, about to graduate high school and counting the days till she is cured and matched. Her mother succumbed to ‘he disease many year ago, and eventually committed suicide. Lena has been living under that shadow for many years. She looks forward to a happier life without the risk of falling in love.

And then she meets Alex. And becomes infected.

Suddenly, Lena’s world is turned upside down. All the truths she ever accepted have been challenged. Her memories of her mother, and the laughs, cuddles and songs they shared behind closed doors and curtains all have new meaning. Lena begins to rebel against the society she so recently embraced. She no longer wants to be ‘cured’ and desperately wants to avoid the good match she so longed for.

I enjoyed reading Delirium; I couldn’t put it down. Though it started a bit slow, I was soon fascinated by Lena’s relationships with Hana (her best friend) and Grace (her mute younger cousin). Later, I fell in love with Alex just as Lena did, and grieved her mother through her memories. On the surface, the story was intoxicating.

Just below the surface… not so much. Reading any dystopia requires accepting certain assumptions that may be more or less farfetched, but for it to work they have to at least be plausible. While I loved the IDEA of a world where love was declared a disease, Oliver didn’t sell it well enough. I couldn’t understand how or why this had happened. How did an entire country buy into it? Was there a major catastrophe that led to drastic measures? Did a dictator take over and impose his/her will on the country? We don’t know. Add this to the fact that it seems to be set in the not-too-distant future, and I was left thinking things could not have changed so dramatically, so fast.

Also, and maybe this is just another sign of me getting old, but the romance between Lena and Alex wasn’t convincing enough. I can see why they eventually fell for one another, but the instant connection did not convince me, and I don’t see how she could already love him enough to want to abandon her family, friends and life to be with him. I can write it all off to the intensity of teenage love, but that’s a cop-out. I want to be convinced.

Delirium is the first book of a planned trilogy tracing Lena’s adventures in this love-free world. Despite some holes in the plot, I love the idea, and enjoyed the story enough that I anticipate reading more. Perhaps some of what’s missing will be revealed in later novels.

Hardcover: 448 pages

Publisher: HarperCollins (February 1, 2011)

ISBN-10: 0061726826

ISBN-13: 978-0061726828

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