Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

The Story: 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. [Goodreads]

My Response: Delirium is the second of Lauren Oliver’s books that I’ve picked up with cautious optimism. Now that I’m done, I think it’s time to admit that she’s one of those special writers who can take a risky, possibly tired conceit and remake it delightful and fresh, and that as such, she deserves more trust than she does caution.

In her 2010 debut, Before I Fall, Oliver managed to make the same day described six times in a row emotional and engrossing (yes, I cried at the end), and in Delirium, she adds to the already crowded market for YA dystopian fiction. On the surface, her contribution isn’t particularly unique: a normal-yet-special heroine falls in love with a boy, realizes that she lives under the thumb of an oppressive government, and ends up a rebel on the run. [See Also: Incarceron, Divergent, and Matched, just to name those that I’ve read this year.]

However, Delirium stands out, and for much the same reason that Before I Fall succeeded: Oliver’s prose is rich and textured, heavy with metaphors and similes that are poetic without pretension. She takes her time, world building slowly and methodically in defiance of the break-neck pace popularized by The Hunger Games. Just as importantly, she goes out of her way to capture and develop the voice of her teen protagonist and to let her be, you know, a teenager. I particularly love Lena’s interactions with her best friend, Hana, because they are so similar to my own memories of high school friendships.

I also appreciate that Lena has reasons other than pure ignorance to embrace the status quo. When Lena is 8-years-old, her mother, who could not (or would not) be cured of her love for Lena’s father, commits suicide. Not only does this event permanently mark Lena as different within her community, it also makes her fear of amor deliria nervosa that much more personal. She, like so many teenage girls, is afraid that she’ll grow up to be just like her mother.

Of course, Lena’s fear begins to dissipate once she’s met Alex, a predictably beautiful boy who, for whatever reason, has chosen her to be the one whose eyes he opens. Whatever. The romance between the two of them is sweet, but it exists more to jumpstart the story forward than to be the story itself—and even then, it’s Hana who originally challenges Lena to step outside her comfort zone. In this way, Delirium is again a welcome change from standard YA dystopian fare, in that Lena has a close female friend from the start, rather than only after her world has been turned inside out.

My Recommendation: Of the new dystopian series that I’ve read so far, Delirium begins one of the most promising, and fans of the genre would do well to pick up a copy sooner rather than later. There are some genuinely horrifying scenes that may be overly violent for younger readers, but I don’t think any were gratuitous. Perhaps this is because there are also genuinely happy scenes to give the story balance.

Book two of the series, Pandemonium, is scheduled to be released on March 6, 2012. Based on what I’ve read about it so far, Lauren Oliver could take her story in a number of unexpected directions. Personally, I’m hoping for more background on the government and its discovery and implementation of the cure, and [spoiler alert—highlight the following to read] exploration of the fact that love doesn’t just happen once, that a person can fall in love again after suffering a great loss. [/spoiler alert]

My Rating: ✶ ✶ ✶
(out of a possible 4)

Delirium (Delirium #1) / Lauren Oliver. HarperTeen, 2011. US $17.99 (hardcover).

 

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6 responses to “Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

  1. I completely agree with you on this review. I enjoyed the book and the voice of the main character. One thing I wish I could see with books like these (ya dystopia in particular) is what would happen if the character didn’t veer off the path and break the rules. For example in Matched I was more interested in seeing what the process would have been like if she had gone through the process established by the community. I feel like if I really understood what their future was supposed to be, I would better appreciate them making a change. All of that being said, Delirium had a strong enough female lead that I didn’t find myself as distracted. The lead in Matched wasn’t nearly as interesting as Lena.

    • I agree: Matched was thoroughly disappointing. Moreover, it was more blatantly derivative than most of the other YA dystopias that I’ve been reading. I wrote a review of it for Goodreads before I started this blog: see here.

      At some point, YA dystopia is going to need to change its formula, and I think you make a great point re: stories that depict more of life pre-revolution. If I remember correctly, this is closer to what goes on in Brave New World; there’s never any overt action to change the system, just an undercurrent of This is wrong. This is so, so wrong.

  2. Pingback: TGIF | YA in the Second City

  3. I loved Derlirium! One of my favorites, if not my favorite, book of the year. I just love Lauren Oliver’s writing style–so much different that other dystopians and just so lovely. Like you, I’m really curious to see what direction the author takes in Pandemonium…lots of different ways to go.

    I’m glad you liked it!

  4. I actually read this when you posted it but hadn’t commented yet. I am really eager to read Pandemonium. I really do think that dystopia is a great arena for Lauren’s prose. I’ve never read Before I Fall and I’m really not sure why. I should pick it up. I’m a little distracted by the new cover designs though. This one is nicer than Pandemonium’s. I have the original hardcover of Delirium and it’s very pretty. Both on the jacket and the hardcover itself. Not sure why they decided to change it.

    • Though I’m pretty over cover designs that feature girls with less than a whole head (and most photographic covers, period—bring back artwork!), I really like the second version of Delirium‘s cover. I bought it in hardcopy when Borders went out of business, and I really like it.

      Before I Fall is lovely. I think I sent you my review from earlier this year? If not, tell me. I was briefly reviewing books on my regular Tumblr, and that’s one of them.

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