DELIRIUM (Delirium, book 1) by Lauren Oliver
Harpercollins, 2012, 480 pages, 9780061726835, Paperback, $9.99
(Guest reviewed by Jaclyn Gata)
Delirium is one of those books that I hate to love. Dystopian novels have been among my least favorite fiction since first hearing about them. It’s difficult for me to get behind a book that, while interesting and consuming, has a potentially depressing ending. After reading, The Hunger Games about four years ago, I felt traumatized, and I have yet to read Catching Fire. That being said, I read the entire Delirium series in three days.
I grabbed the first book on a whim when I saw it on sale at Target and instantly grabbed by the plot: what if we could erase love?
“The most dangerous sicknesses are those that make us believe we are well.” (Page 1)
In Lena’s world, there is no love, there is only amor deliria nervosa, a disease. This disease, however, is curable through a simple procedure at the age of eighteen. Once cured, all couples are matched up according to a personality exam, most of which are answered with lies from students trained to climb the social ladder for higher status.
Lena always believed in the importance of the cure and was eager to undergo the procedure—until she met Alex.
Alex can cross back and forth between Lena’s world and the world of the invalids—those who refused the cure and escaped to the Wilds. The Wilds lie beyond the walls of Lena’s world. It was bombed by the government when it could no longer control the invalids living there. That is where the Resistance lives–a group of which Alex is a part.
Alex is a stark contrast to Lena and her family, as she rigidly believes in the government’s rule and in the cure because of its ability to leave her “pain-free,” especially after the destruction the disease caused to her family (most importantly, to her mother). Though little is known about Alex’s background at this point, we know that he is a part of the Resistance and is posing as a cured citizen, though he has a home in the Wilds. Also, little is known about the Resistance since the story is told in first person from Lena’s POV. From her perspective, information about the Resistance manifests itself mainly in illicit parties with censored music and alcohol as well as in small protests with few actual effects.
At first, the world of this story seems cold and harsh, and I couldn’t understand why a country would outlaw love. As pages pass, however, you realize that, with love outlawed, so are many books, poems and songs. The government gains an almost unlimited amount of control by making changes to these cultural artifacts. Most books have been rewritten or have had their plots changed. The apple in the Garden of Eden was born from the seed of love, and Romeo and Juliet is a cautionary tale on the effects of love.
Corruption and deception are uncovered in Lena’s life merely by knowing Alex, including the suicide of her mother. Her mother was one of the few people who were immune to the cure, making her a sweeter and warmer person than the other adult characters, most of whom are distant and concerned only with Lena’s wellbeing as it relates to their family moving up in society.
The flashbacks of Lena’s mother show the reader what it means to be without the cure in this society. Those who have not been cured still have the ability to love, but they are riddled with depression because they must hide it. Her death was a result of her inability to live without being loved in return.
Oliver’s writing is outstanding and kept me coming back for more. Her eloquence and the magical nature of her words are almost better than the stories themselves:
“One of the strangest things about life is that it will chug on, blind and oblivious, even as your private world—your little carved-out sphere—is twisting and morphing, even breaking apart. One day you have parents; the next day you’re an orphan. One day you have a place and a path. The next day you’re lost in the wilderness. And still the sun rises and clouds mass and drift and people shop for groceries and toilets flush and blinds go up and down. That’s when you realize that most of it – life, the relentless mechanism of existing—isn’t about you. It doesn’t include you at all. It will thrust onward even after you’ve jumped the edge. Even after you’re dead.” (Page 302)
I love that this series makes the classic tale of how love changes a girl’s life less of a cliché, because Lena’s love for Alex literally changes her world. Before she meets Alex, Lena’s life is not her own, and she lives without art, choice, affection or purpose. She hardly exists.
“He is my world and my world is him and without him there is no world.” (Page 234)
While Delirium is wonderful, it is the simplest book in the series. It is divided into chapters, which are headed with phrases, proverbs and propaganda from its world. It sets up the series of events that begins a revolution in the next two books and follows Lena’s transition from love-struck teenager to rebel.