Another day, another dystopian down. Not that I’m complaining! I love an alternate future as much as the next gal, and though Delirium is reminiscent of several existing novels, I enjoyed the personal touches Lauren Oliver slipped in.
In a future where love is treated as a disease (amor deliria nervosa), adulthood is marked by an operation that inhibits the feeling of love. Since the operation occurs at eighteen, its looming shadow is easily recognizable as “high school graduation” in disguise. (There’s even an SAT-esque assessment for teenagers to freak out over, though this test helps the government choose their future mates.) Oliver uses these rituals to deftly capture the end of adolescence, the particular feeling of change and the friction it brings. Parents are needed yet pushed away. Classmates turn into strangers, and closest friends grow apart. A future is waiting, worried about and yearned for with equal force.
Lena as a heroine is refreshing. I didn’t really want to like her, but time and time again, she made choices that drew me toward her. She comes into her rebellion slowly, lacking the initial fire of Katniss or curiosity of Cassia. Still, the character arc of a fearful, law-abiding girl is interesting to watch. Lena tries so hard to escape the legacy of her never-cured mother, but it’s clear she is her mother’s daughter.
Since this book is about the systematic destruction of love, the most compelling parts deal with Lena’s relationships with others. Lena and her best friend Hana’s shared history, forged despite their differences, gifts them the protective bond of sisters, allowing for both jealousy and admiration. Alex, the love interest that “infects” Lena, was as dreamy as a poetry-spouting rebel can be. (Imagine hearing banned love poems for the first time ever from someone you love!) Of course, there are other touching links Lena discovers, but I don’t want to give away too much.
Oliver’s prose contains consistent gems of description to stumble over. She is an incredibly sensory writer, fully inhabiting her characters as she spins out their story. Though I did some skimming, it was only because I wanted to find out what happens! I was getting anxious as I saw the pages dwindling, and BAM…A trilogy. I should have known better.
I will be reading on, as I want more of the characters and of the societal backstory. How did such an efficient overhaul take place? On that note, I loved the chapter epigraphs from “The Book of Shhh,” the dominant religious text, and other sources—nursery rhymes, children’s chants, academic tomes, scientific reports. (As in Ally Condie’s Matched, there are a lot of censored/reinterpreted creative works. For instance, Romeo and Juliet is read as a cautionary tale rather than a love story.) This extensive cultural reimagining assures me that however Oliver’s dystopian future reached its current state, there’s a really good story behind it.