I’m calling it now: Delirium will be one of the biggest YA releases of 2011. I raced through this book in about two days and I’m already itching for the second book in the trilogy, but the book was so good that I’ll probably re-read it a couple of times while I wait. If this book doesn’t catch on in a big, Hunger Games-way, I’ll be shocked.
I was a HUGE fan of Lauren Oliver’s first book, Before I Fall, and Delirium doesn’t fall short of expectations. Oliver has captured me with her beautiful writing style in a way few authors have done – she writes so honestly that her characters’ happiness and pain is tangible and utterly real. And she describes the scenery in a way that almost makes it a character in its own right, which really adds to the atmosphere of the book. Where a book like Matched lacked a certain realism, the future Portland, Maine of Delirium feels like a fully fleshed-out world with a history. These are the things that put Oliver’s book solidly above the rest of the dystopian YA fiction pack.
Delirium takes place in a near-future United States where love is known as the disease deliria. Years ago, scientists found a cure for love, which sounds like it’s basically a lobotomy. Everyone gets cured at age 18, and the cured are devoid of any passion, living every day in an emotionless fog. But the cure doesn’t always work – narrator Lena’s mother was given the procedure three times before killing herself. Lena herself is counting down the days until her procedure. She doesn’t want to end up diseased and miserable like her mother, and she thinks her life will really begin once she’s cured. She’ll go to college, be assigned a job, and be matched with her husband.
That is, until her best friend Hana convinces Lena to meet her at an illegal party (with uncured boys and music and dancing), where she meets Alex. Lena thinks it’s safe to get to know Alex, because he’s been cured. But by the time she finds out that he’s actually not cured, that he’s from The Wilds outside the city and is part of the resistance fighting against the government and the cure, it’s too late: Lena’s already started to fall in love with him. It’s such a new perspective to experience new love through Lena’s scientific understanding of it. She believes she’s been infected, and that the side effects are causing her perspiration and feelings of dizziness, but it feels so good that she carries on her affair with Alex, despite the very real danger to them both if they were found out.
There are two things I love about the way Oliver handles issues in this book: first, that she doesn’t shy away from desire or sex. So many YA authors would tackle a premise like this and ignore the feelings of sexual desire because sex can be such a dirty word in teen books. But it’s a very real part of love, and it’s something that Lena doesn’t entirely know how to handle. The second thing is that Oliver also made the threat feel real. If the cure fails, you can be killed or imprisoned for life. There are random raids in the neighborhoods in which all of your rights are suspended – Lena describes pregnant women being forced to strip naked in their front yards and be searched, and teenagers being beaten by regulators with nightsticks and attacked by dogs. This is no shadowy, mysterious government force; they’re everywhere and they’ll spare no one.
Much of Delirium is about Lena and Alex’s growing relationship, but it never reads like a romance novel. It’s about friendship and trust, growing up, rebellion and lust and adventure. We’re with Lena as she discovers all these feelings that she’s been denied and been taught to suppress her entire life. And then on the very last page, the story took a wild U-turn and didn’t do what I expected at all. I literally pumped my fist and said, “fuck yes!” because now I know that this is going to be an epic, daring series and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
I received an ARC of Delirium from BEA 2010. Delirium will be published on February 1, 2011.