by Lauren Oliver
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 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.
"I hate skin; I hate bones and bodies. I want to curl up inside of him and be carried there forever."
Earlier this year, I fell in love with Lauren Oliver's debut, Before I Fall. So understandably, I was very excited to hear about her next book, Delirium. A dystopian world where love is a disease, written by the clearly very talented Oliver? Yeah, I can get behind that. I settled in to wait the long, cruel months until the February release date, when I got a surprise package in the mail from the Polish Outlander -- her ARC of Delirium! Imagine my delight. I held off reading it for a few days, just to give myself some distance from Matched, which has a very similar concept, and which I'd just finished. But I didn't want to wait too long, so, similarities be damned, I went ahead and read it.
I'm going to try to not keep comparing this to Matched, which isn't fair -- Matched had its own review, after all -- but I do have to say that, though each is its own thing, the similarities are pretty strong, and my reaction to each was the same -- I wanted so much more than I got.
Lest you think this review is wholly negative, let me start with the things I did like. I love the concept, and think it has the potential to be really powerful and fascinating. There is a flow to it most of the time that kept me reading even when I was frustrated by other things. And there are these moments that shine through, these beautiful little word gems that Oliver creates, that reminds me of why I loved Before I Fall, and why I was so excited to read this.
But I was so very, very excited for this that I think I was even more let down by it than Matched, which was also something I was eager for. Before I Fall was fresh and compelling, and I felt like so much of Oliver, so much heart and so much work, went into it. I didn't feel the same about Delirium. I'm not going to accuse Oliver of selling out or hopping on a trend, but I do wonder how much passion was behind this story. It seemed sort of sloppy (and yes, I know, I read an ARC, and that may account for some of it). But there were so many inconsistencies and questions I had that I couldn't ever commit. I could only go along so far until logic would intrude. I would be forced to ask myself things like, If Lena was just bitten (badly) in the leg by a dog, why does Alex kissing her seem to erase not only any pain, but even any mention of the bite, until it's like an afterthought? How does her family not notice that either a) she's wearing pants in the middle of sweltering August, and limping, or b) she's not wearing pants and the scar is showing and she's limping? Because it has to be one of those 2 things. And though the "cure" may not make them care for her safety so much, it doesn't take away their suspicious natures. [Also, setting aside the fact that she walked home, how did they just walk home? Just like that. With raiding parties everywhere, and her bitten terribly, they just strolled on home, illegally, down the street? How do they get away with all the shit they get away with, in this repressive society? Hmm...] Things like this were peppered throughout the story, and they just made it nearly impossible to buy in to what was going on.
Smaller things, too, like words and phrases and things we have now that I don't see any use for, or don't believably buy would be in the world Oliver created. And, of course, the much bigger things, like how did all this -- the discovery of the "deliria", the cure, the restrictions, the beliefs, all of it -- come to be? I know it may not be what Lauren intended, but with such a seemingly science-influenced dystopia, I need some good scientific reasoning, some "evidence" -- real or gov't created -- that backs everything up, some explanation or plausible scenario that lets this total overhaul of human beliefs and passions come to be in a matter of 60 years or so. That's a very, VERY brief period of time for such a huge and total change to take place, so I need reality to intrude a little. I need either some hints of a really big conspiracy, or something so huge and devastating that people as a whole almost go into a state of shock or numbness that allows this to happen. Because, as a general rule, people don't willingly submit to mass lobotomies or the eradication of their feelings for the people they love -- or hate -- without some serious something acting as a catalyst. Petty strife and crimes of passion may make you think of Eternal Sunshining your mind spotless, but in an abstract, angry, wouldn't-it-be-lovely kind of way, and not a bring-on-the-procedure kind of way. Some science, some history, some dogma, some thing beyond the sometimes eerie, sometimes meh snippets of "texts" that start every chapter, would have gone a long way toward helping me willingly suspend my disbelief.
But even if I could have set the worldbuilding and believability aside -- no easy task in a concept novel like this -- for it to be saved, the characters and plot would have had to really shine.
But I felt like everything was a little wooden, a little cardboard, a little less than believable and real. The love interest, Alex, was okay enough, but why should Lena care about him, and why should I? I understand why he cares about Lena, but that's not something we really find out until Lena is already head over heels infected/in love, and I don't understand how she got there. As a reader, in order to take that leap with a character, we need to know why, we need to feel it. All I got was that he was a boy who payed attention to her, he winked, he smiled, he seemed a bit smarmy and she's hooked. Now, yes, I get that's enough for a teenage infatuation, and it may be heightened by the taboo nature of it. I even get that his more easy manner reminded Lena of her mother, who was incurable.
But for Lena, who has always been terrified of the deliria, which tore her world apart, and who has always looked forward to her procedure, and been so afraid of stepping out of the box, who is afraid to say, to even hear, the word love -- for her to completely flip and become reckless and passionate and all the other stuff that comes with being the things she's always feared...hmm. The only way this really works for me, the only thing that would make me buy it and appreciate it, was if it took the slant that the deliria was real and she'd become infected. Otherwise, I have no choice but to think this is a cheesy, run of the mill YA romance where one look from a guy makes a girl throw her entire being out the window and become a swooning, fluttery mess with no relation to the person she once was, and who would die for the roguish boy she knows nothing about. Which is, apparently, what every teenage girl is secretly waiting to do.
Maybe the deliria is real.
Here's my teaser:
I couldn't find a trailer, though the ARC says there will be one, but here's Lauren Oliver talking about the genesis of the story: