Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Release Date: February 1, 2011
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.(courtesy of Goodreads)
Lauren Oliver is one of the best young adult authors of our age. She has a way with expressing emotion in prose that makes her stories heartbreaking and beautiful. So it was with great anticipation that I picked up Delirium, because if anyone can make me like dystopias, Lauren can. But, alas...
My quibble with Delirium is not necessarily rooted in my distaste for dystopias. Rather, my problem with the book is that I've read it before. In books like The Giver, Wither, and Matched - especially Matched. Delirium is arguably better written than other books I've read, but because I read it last, the originality is gone. Not that it's entirely unoriginal. Delirium has its own take on the dystopian love story plot. I love the concept of love as a disease that needs to be cured. Anyone who has been in the throes of new love can relate to the idea that it's a disease. The "cure" does not turn people into old, happy married couples comfortable in their affection. It turns people into sheep - walking in straight lines, going to work, getting married, having 1.5 children and not caring about any of it.
So the world building is unique - although it follows the same framework as every other dystopia. But nothing about the plot surprised me. Girl basically content to abide by the rules meets boy who shocks her world; she falls in love, realizes the government she always trusted is awful, and seeks to either escape or change things. This is a loose summary of Delirium's plot, along with many other stories. While it's a well written version of the oft told tale, I was quickly bored. I knew what was going to happen and I didn't really care. I actually put the book down with 20-30 pages to go - at the most tense portion of the story and didn't pick it up for 3 weeks. And even then it was only because I figured I should finish it.
Lena and Alex, our leading lady and man, are perfectly pleasant. Neither of them stand out from other young adult protagonists, but I liked them. Lena on the surface is someone who toes the dotted line, but as we get to know her (particularly through her friendship with Hanna), we learn that she's someone who likes to have fun and be a little mischievous. Most of all, she's different from the other teens her age. She likes "gray": the uncertainty, the risk, the potential. Alex is a great character. I loved his confidence. You'd think someone who lived with such high risk would be a little more cautious, but perhaps such personalities are the ones that can thrive in danger. Alex is the guy who has a response for everything - funny or serious when called for. He's the one you turn to when you're in trouble. A handsome, kind, reliable guy who seems to know all the answers.
As I expected, Lauren's writing sets Delirium apart from others of its ilk. Present tense prose and short sentences ratchets up the emotion and tension. You can feel the growing love between Lena and Alex. Lauren focuses on the little things - the slightest touch or raised eyebrows - which turn into so much more. Depending on your style preference, the book may be a bit too heavy on the metaphors, but it struck the perfect balance for me between detailed description and trying too hard to sound literary. On the down side, such careful prose contributes to the book's slow pace. The focus was often on describing emotions and setting rather than moving the plot along.
My favorite part about the book was the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. Lauren took traditional songs, nursery rhymes, and Bible verses and twisted it to fit her society's twisted rationale. It was a subtle shift that was done perfectly. It made the dystopic society feel much more real.
Delirium wasn't quite for me, but I can see why so many people like it. The book is beautifully written, the characters ooze chemistry, and the world-building is rich and detailed. If this was the first dystopian love story I'd read, I'd probably be a huge fan. But since it was not, my affection was unfortunately spoiled.