Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium
Lauren Oliver

HarperTeen
Released February 3, 2011
441 pages
YA / Dystopian / SciFi 

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Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe.

I wonder whether the procedure will hurt.

I want to get it over with.

It’s hard to be patient.

It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet.

Still, I worry.

They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness.

The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.

Lauren Oliver astonished readers with her stunning debut, Before I Fall. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called it “raw, emotional, and, at times, beautiful. An end as brave as it is heartbreaking.” Her much-awaited second novel fulfills her promise as an exceptionally talented and versatile writer.

If you ever try to describe this book to a real life person using real words, you’re going to sound ridiculous. It’s even harder to describe it to someone who doesn’t read YA regularly and you will probably get laughed at. It’s one of those premises that sounds kind of awful, but can be executed in a really fun way. Love has been outlawed and at the age of 18, everyone gets the love and other strong emotions lobotomized out of them so that there can be a peaceful utopia locked within the electric fences around Portland, Maine. Of course the lead character, who is happy to be led to the lobotomy slaughter house, falls madly in love with a strange and intriguing boy mere months before her 18th birthday and All Hell Breaks LooseTM.

It’s Romeo and Juliet, except the government wants to kill them more so than their families. Lena, our lead, has a dark shadow following her due to her mother’s suicide after the procedure failed to squash any remnants of the deliria that allow her to have crazy dance parties with her daughters, laugh authentically and actually love her children instead of being moderately indifferent to them. This stigma follows her like a plague, making her even more dedicated to the pre-planned life set before her as her only choice.

Then Manic Pixie Boy shows up and introduces her to poetry and laughter and being sneaky. He introduces her to music and a life outside the metaphorical and real walls built around her life. It’s all incredibly dreamy and full of constant danger of being found out. Is the romance because of the illegality of it or is it because she really likes this strange boy who is “safe” because he has the scars from the deliria extraction process?

If I sound a little snarky, it’s probably because this is a nice book with a predictable plot and okay characters that show some growth, but not a lot of depth. I also got a little tired of the comparisons of Alex’s hair to autumn leaves. He is also a token dream boy with no edges or darkness. He is set up as the Right Choice and everything else is obviously wrong. That left a lot to be desired with Lena and prevented any sort of narrative tension. From the beginning it’s obvious where this story is going to go and Oliver doesn’t stray from that script even just an inch.

The part I enjoyed most about Delirium is the work Oliver put in to build this dystopian-posing-as-utopian world and the history she created to explain away objections to how the world went from now to where it is in this land of forbidden love and preference for numbness. The subtle alterations to bible interpretations, the propaganda excerpts and the bits and pieces of the disaster that led to this madness all built a far more interesting concept than the people inhabiting it.

With that said, the very end was an exhilarating and heart-racing action sequence that I loved and wish the book had more of that same feeling of desperate want and lack of hope. For the first time in the book, I authentically believed these characters could be in mortal danger and that a happy ending would be impossible. That last sequence made me question my assumptions and, had that same momentum and gut wrenching expectation that everything was going to go wrong at a moment’s notice had happened far earlier in the book, I may have enjoyed it more.

But that’s okay. It’s an easy, fast-paced book that’s predictable. That’s not all together bad. It just isn’t going to land on any best of list of mine. I’ve since read the sequel Pandemonium, which was kind of the opposite – surprising story until the end, where it hit all the expected notes – but that’s a review for another time.