Monday, December 27, 2010

"Delirium" by Lauren Oliver

Summary: Lena is looking forward to her 18th birthday in a few months in which she will receive the cure for love. Once she has been cured, she will never be at danger of contracting this dangerous illness the way her mother—who later committed suicide when the cure didn’t “take”--did. But during Lena’s evaluation, which will determine who she will be paired with for marriage following college graduation, Lena catches sight of a young man named Alex. She later runs in to him again, and even though interactions between the sexes prior to the cure are illegal, she finds herself drawn to him. Lena realizes she is in danger of catching the disease, but as she grows closer to Alex, she finds she doesn’t care.

Musings: Delirium has received a lot of advanced press recently, and though I had heard nothing but positive reviews for Oliver’s Before I Fall, the reviews I’ve read for Delirium have been more mixed.

Dystopian young adult novels have become very popular recently, so much so that there are now a variety of sub-genres within the field. Whereas classic dystopias (and even many strong contemporary YA dystopias) were created as satire and social critique, many recently published books are not. The Maze Runner, for example, is mostly a mystery, and even The Hunger Games is adventure rather than social criticism. Delirium, then, is really a contemporary romance that uses a dystopian setting.

This categorization can be good or bad depending on what you’re looking for. Because Delirium is mostly a romance, there is no world building. In this future United States, love is illegal, and there exists a totalitarian government which restricts individuals’ civil liberties in order to enforce the rules. However, despite these changes and the fact that the book is set sometime in the future (at least 60 years, though presumably longer), the technology, social customs, and culture are virtually identical to today’s. The characters do the same things and talk the same way as teenagers in 2010. And even though we’re told how restrictive the government is, the characters appear to get away with a lot. Now, I’m willing to believe that the government operates somewhat like the panopticon—maintaining order through the illusion of being omnipresent rather than actually being omnipresent—but it does seem unlikely that teenagers could elude detection for so long.

But, truthfully, all of this only matters if you don’t care about the love story itself. And, I’ll admit, I fell for Oliver’s star-crossed lovers Lena and Alex. I could understand Lena’s fear and trepidation of breaking the rules, and I could also understand her powerful attraction to Alex. Alex is really too good to be true, but it’s so nice to like him anyway and “aww” a bit for his care of Lena. Yes, there are a lot of typical descriptions of emotions ("I couldn't breathe/was dizzy/was numb when he [insert some "swoon-worthy" action]").  Nonetheless, I was eager to see what happened, even though I dreaded the ending (since this is the first in a trilogy, I knew the ending would be tragic!). I also liked that the book didn’t just focus on the romantic love between Lena and Alex but also the friendship love between Lena and Hana. Often best friends get second billing to love interests, but Oliver showed the strength and power of the two friends as well as she showed the romantic feelings.

By dystopian standards, Delirium is not particularly new or special. The book’s plot is very similar to Uglies, and the arranged love concept is appearing a lot recently (e.g., Matched). And if you read a lot of contemporary romances, you may not be too taken away by another Romeo and Juliet reincarnation. But, for me—someone who reads a lot of dystopias but very little contemporary romance—Delirium was engaging, with characters I rooted for.

Delirium will be published in February 2011.

E-galley received by the publisher through Net Galley for my review.

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