Author: Lauren Oliver
Published: February 1, 2011 by HarperCollins
The first line: “It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.”
As soon as I read the premise for Oliver’s newest book, a world where love is considered a deadly disease, I was intrigued beyond belief. For a passionate person like myself, who is ruled by her heart and the desire to love and be loved, I was fascinated by the idea of a society who not only discourages love, but considers it a sickness. I heard an interview with Oliver where she talks about where the idea came from, and while it seemed like a great idea to me at this time, I wasn’t sure how she’d manage to realistically paint this society that shuns the one thing that our current society strives for.
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
The main character, Magdalena Ella Holoway Tiddle, or Lena, considers her 5’2” self completely average, a girl who is “in-between in every way” (page 440). She has been born into this society where love is feared and the “cure” is revered. Lena counts the days until her inoculation, following the rules set before her to a T: it’s the only life she has ever known. But when she meets Alex, a boy with wild eyes and hair like a crown of leaves, her entire world is turned on its head. Can she embrace the recklessness yet passionate feelings that are overtaking her whole body, or is there too much at risk to allow herself to be led by her heart?
Oliver does an amazing job at making this paranoid Portland, Maine society believable in every way. Every chapter starts with a quote or text taken from a supposed authoritative source, for example, The Book of Shhh, or The Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook which is the guidebook for the “uncured” youth who haven’t yet been administered the cure to love. The Book of Shhh makes love a dirty word (“amor deliria nervosa“) and lists it as a lethal symptomatic disease that advances quickly and without warning.
The most disturbing part is that from an analytical point, the symptoms actually make sense! Love affects your mind so you cannot think clearly? Check! Love sometimes curbs your appetite and disrupts sleeping patterns? Check! It is truly scary how easily I can imagine our own current day world slipping into this delusional notion that love is a contaminating disease and Oliver really tries to stress that point.
But I think the point of the book, and the flaw of this society, is the blatant ignorance that love also has benefits, has positive aspects that far outweigh the heart palpitations and dry mouth. Lena discovers that everything she has even been told is a lie, and she’s happier for knowing. Happier for being aware, even if that awareness open old wounds and makes her contemplate her entire sense of reality.
As in any book, it’s all about the characters for me. Even if I love the story, or want to love the story, without realistic characters who come alive, the book falls flat. These characters fall far from flat, in fact, I still find myself thinking of them from time to time, often drawing strength from Lena and her heroism in my own daily life. Even the characters with whom I could not personally identify with, such as Lena’s aunt, Carol, were well-rounded and interesting.
Best of all, the ending is tragically fantastic and I am counting the days until the next book comes out in February of 2012. Really, making us wait that long to find out what happens, well, that should be illegal!
Overall, Delirium lived up to and surpassed my every expectation with its fresh writing, beautiful imagery, and masterful story progression. Oliver is a fantastic writer and I recommend her novels to anyone with a passion for poetic prose, purposeful characters, and meaningful stories.