"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 governments 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."
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Delirium, and I'm sorry to say that this book didn't live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. Of course, there was so much hype built up by the time I read it that this isn't too surprising.
Comparisons between dystopian novels are inevitable, and I think my reaction to Delirium suffered a bit from the fact that I'd read Matched only a couple months before. The general idea is the same: forbidden love in a society determined to control every detail of your life. So I experienced a kind of déja vu as I was reading Delirium. Of course, if I had read this book first and Matched second, I likely would have had the same comment about Matched, and since they were released at roughly the same time, it is no fault of Lauren Oliver's that the two premises are similar. Delirium also reminded me of the Uglies series, because "the Wilds" seemed very similar to "the Smoke," and of course they both involve giving their citizens an operation.
Having read these (and other) dystopian books, a lot of the events in Delirium seemed fairly predictable. I knew the ending was supposed to be a cliffhanger, but fortunately it turned out to be totally different from what I had anticipated. However, I didn't find the emotional impact to be that powerful, which may be partly because I'm still rather confused about exactly why everything played out the way it did. Big spoiler, highlight to read: Okay, why does Alex not follow Lena? Is it because he wants to buy her more time? Or because he's wounded and physically can't get over the fence? But it seemed like he was planning not to follow her before he ever got shot...
Delirium does have its own unique twist, though. I really like the concept of a society that believes love is a disease and "cures" it, and I wanted to learn more about how this came to be the crux of the society's foundation. What is actually happening when people "afflicted" with love grow ill and die? Are there records of this — and what is the real explanation for deliria? And what is the "cure" *actually* doing? Plus, maybe I missed something, but... if the operation is supposed to remove both love and sexual desire, then exactly how does reproduction in this society work? I kept wondering this the whole way through... maybe we will get an explanation in book 2?
Along with the ending, there was one other major plot point that I didn't see coming. I can't decide just how I feel about it, but it's very spoilery, so highlight to read: I'm of two minds about Lena's mom not having committed suicide after all. On the one hand, it appeared to be a dramatic event that had strongly influenced Lena's outlook and emotional development, so to find out that it was all a lie seemed to lessen its impact somehow. On the other hand, it did surprise me and give rise to several more questions and another storyline, that I'm sure we'll find out more about in the sequel.
I did find Delirium rather slow-moving, since a large part of the book was focused on building up the romance between Lena and Alex. Although it didn't grip me so tightly that I couldn't put it down, I read it quite steadily for most of the way through. And actually, one of the most memorable scenes for me was not action-packed, but stood out because of its setting: the one in the Crypts. It's eerie without being over-the-top, everything from the mouldering building to the guard with the creepy, icky vibe giving me that "just the slightest bit off" feeling.
It took me a bit before I started liking the main character Lena. Of course, she's pretty brainwashed at the beginning of the novel and once she falls in love, begins to "wake up" and realizes she actually has something with Alex that her society is threatening, she becomes a bit easier to root for. Still, I never felt a strong connection with her, like I really understood her mindset. It seemed like she often defined herself in relation to other people: initially as a friend of Hana and a dutiful niece to her aunt, and then later as Alex's girlfriend. I'm hoping that some more character development will take place in the sequel and that Lena will grow into someone who can stand on her own two feet.
I enjoyed the initial attraction between Alex and Lena; Alex's confidence is appealing, as is his penchant for a bit of rule-breaking, and Oliver does an excellent job of portraying the infatuation phase. But once they actually became a couple, their relationship started feeling a bit too sweet for my taste, sometimes verging into overly dramatic and angsty. And perhaps I'm naturally skeptical, but it seemed rather easy for them to sneak around and fool everyone for as long as they did. This is a "Big Brother is watching you" type of dystopian society, after all; there's not much you should be able to slip past them.
I think one reason I wasn't completely wrapped up in the romance is that Alex came across as perfect — he's considerate, romantic, brave, loyal... He didn't strike me as having any discernible weaknesses, and I like my fictional characters to feel a little more real, even if it means being a little less than perfect. Lena, on the other hand, does have flaws: she's not super courageous (at least not in a showy, 'gutsy' kind of way), she takes things pretty much for granted at the beginning, she can't really see the big picture.
Not sure whether this really counts as a "character," but I was disappointed not to see more of the government's representatives — they do make a few appearances in groups, but we don't actually see much of who's running the show here. Perhaps this is deliberate, but without very much description or a sense of how the government functions, "Big Brother" just didn't seem that scary (in fact, for most of the book it didn't seem like they were doing a very good job of being a vigilant watchdog, frankly.)
I did really enjoy the friendship between Hana and Lena. Even once Alex enters the scene, it continues to make up a very important part of Lena's life. You can tell that these two have been best friends for such a long time, and that their friendship is critical to Lena's wellbeing and happiness. I also thought the characterization of Lena's aunt and sister was spot on. Rachel in particular had me guessing, wondering just how much she remembered from before the operation, and how far she'd be willing to go to obey the rules.
Writing style: This one's written in first person present, and while it isn't my favourite format, I can understand why it's chosen for a dystopian novel. It gives the reader the effect of being "in the moment" with Lena as she falls for Alex and realizes that love is worth fighting for. I thought the addition of little excerpts from various sources at the beginning of each chapter was a brilliant way of giving the reader a little bit extra to make the society feel more real and the premise grounded in history.
Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars.
Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from the publisher.
For some other perspectives on Delirium, you can check these bloggers' reviews out:
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