With Delirium, Lauren Oliver proves she is a master at taking what seems to be a theme that has been done too many times and turning out a book that takes the story to a new level.
Delirium, due out in February begins with a theme that has been done to death. Like The Giver, The Uglies, and many other books about dystopias, the protagonist lives in a future society where personal freedom is a thing of the past.
But, as with her first book, Before I Fall, Oliver takes a subject which has been done over and over, and with wonderful writing and great characters, action and dialogue takes it to new heights. The story takes place in a huge city, not unlike Chicago. But unlike Chicago, it sits next to an ocean instead of Lake Michigan.
The setting in Delirium is grim — a future when the disease of “love” has been cured. No more lovesickness causing heartache and melancholy. No more desperation over lost loves–at the age of eighteen everyone has a fairly simple (for some not quite so simple) operation.
After the operation, everyone is content. Content to be “paired” with a suitable mate for life, content to have the requisite one or two children, content to live life unemotionally. If there are no delirious moments of elation, neither are there horrible moments of desperation.
Magdalena (Lena) can hardly wait for her operation. She is terrified of getting “infected” even though boys and girls are segregated and have almost no chance of interaction. Those who have had the operation have a distinctive triangular scar marking them forever.
The government, in trying to ensure compliance with the regulations, is repressive. Those who refuse the treatment are either killed or thrown into prisons unless they escape into the “Wilds,” the areas between the civilized, patrolled, loveless cities and towns.
Lena’s mother was one whose operation did not work. When her husband died, she persisted in crying and mourning. She disappeared when Lena was young, and Lena is told that the night before her mother’s fourth scheduled operation, she jumped from a cliff and died.
There are clever clues that Lena is not the average, go-with-the-flow girl that she seems to be at the start of the book. For example, during her pre-operation interview, which she has practiced over and over, instead of giving the “safe” favorite color choice of blue, Lena answers gray. Instead of a “safe” favorite book, Lena answers Romeo and Juliet–not a good choice for an anti-love society.
Luckily for Lena, before the interview she is failing is over, the “Invalids,” as the rebels are known, stage a protest and all the notes with Lena’s “incorrect” answers are lost. She gets another chance at an interview.
But fate intervenes in the form of a young man, Alex. When Lena sees his scar, she knows he is “safe.” According to the rules, she is allowed to be with him because he has had the “cure.” What she finds out is that his scars are fake, as is his life. What is not fake is the love that grows between them and what they do about it.
Lena’s thoughts and actions, her best friend, the police-state she lives in–all are carefully crafted as is the non-stop action and touching plot.
Lauren Oliver’s writing is page-turning suspense. Delirium will be a difficult book to put down–and it’s not a book that can be easily read in one sitting–it’s a long story. All the better; for readers will not want to leave Lena’s world. Personally, I’d like to know what happens to Lena. Perhaps a sequel?
Delirium will be available at local bookstores. The Book Stall in Chestnut Court in Winnetka will carry it as will Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville and Downer’s Grove. Check both websites for their many author appearances.
Visit Lauren Oliver’s blog–it’s clever and witty.