I just finished the Delirium Series by Lauren Oliver. I’m sad to say that I’m not in love. I was entertained, and I respect the work Oliver did as I respect any writer’s work whether I like it or not. Writing is difficult! Unfortunately, I dreaded having to read the next two books in the series Pandemonium and Requiem after listening to the first book Delirium on audible.com.
Here’s the synopsis of Delirium via amazon.com:
In an alternate United States, love has been declared a dangerous disease, and the government forces everyone who reaches eighteen to have a procedure called the Cure. Living with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in Portland, Maine, Lena Haloway is very much looking forward to being cured and living a safe, predictable life. She watched love destroy her mother and isn’t about to make the same mistakes.
But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena meets enigmatic Alex, a boy from the Wilds who lives under the government’s radar. What will happen if they do the unthinkable and fall in love?
Based on this synopsis, I knew I was getting into what could be a sappy young adult love story, clichéd and unrealistic. The sale price of $4.99 for the Audible book, though, was one I couldn’t pass up even if the reader of the book was a bit annoying in my opinion. (Just a side note: if you drive a lot or even work a lot in the home, audible books are a great way to “read” a book while doing other things that don’t take up a lot of thought, i.e. driving the same route every day, cleaning the house, cooking dinner.) I wasn’t let down about my assumptions for a sappy, unrealistic, clichéd love story. However, it fit with the world around them.
The best thing about this book, and about most dystopian novels, is the world building that the author does. Oliver created this future world where love is considered a disease, and it was believable. Emotions are considered a negative, oftentimes illegal, thing. (The Giver, anyone?) How the people deal with this “fact” and respond to the teachings seemed realistic. You have those that will follow whatever they are taught. Indeed, most people will just believe what they are taught and will not question it because they haven’t been taught to think for themselves. You also have the people who rebel against the idea and the Cure for various reasons, most including experiences with love and other gushy emotions. Out of those people who are against the system for whatever reason, you have different factions. Some want to rebel against the system with as little loss as possible. Others want total anarchy and destruction. Others simply want to be left alone to live in the Wilds or in the deserted subway tunnels. And with all these people, Oliver does not overwhelm the reader as she introduces them. She seamlessly shows you the world without telling you about it, a skill all authors should strive for, and one that can be seen in The Hunger Games trilogy, the City of Bones series, and even The Selection series.
I also loved a specific aspect of Oliver’s world-building. The people have a handbook called The Book of Shhh that shows the perils of “Amor Deliria Nervosa,” or falling in love. In it are various stories and “facts” that scare people about this deliria and propagates the necessity of the Cure. As with any propaganda, The Book of Shhh takes past stories and rewrites them for the purposes of eliminating love and emotions. My favorites include Biblical stories that are totally rewritten. For instance, in the “Story of Solomon” in The Book of Shhh two women claimed to be the mother of a baby. When neither would back down from this claim, King Solomon said the only fair thing to do was to cleave the baby in half so that both women could have at least half of the child. Because both women had the deliria, they agreed to let the baby be split in half and so it was. However, the true Bible does not tell this tale the same. The story was that one woman gave up her claim on the baby so that he was not cut in half. Solomon, seeing her sacrifice for the good of the baby, gave the child to that woman, rather than the woman who would not back down even when the baby’s life is threatened. This story is originally about sacrifice and love, though this just wouldn’t do for The Book of Shhh. Oliver delivers other such stories throughout the books, and I love this part of her world building along with the references to other stories, books, and poems.
Although I enjoyed the world building of Oliver, I thought the book was quite slow. It was an interesting premise, but the slow pace of the novel made it difficult to pay attention and to become enthralled with the plot. As I said earlier, I wasn’t looking forward to reading the other two novels in this trilogy after reading the first book. However, the second and third books were superior to the first. In the second book Pandemonium each chapter alternates between Lena right after the events of the first book and Lena working for the Resistance in a new city in the future. The simultaneous stories were interesting and helped break up the pace. One story may be a bit stagnant at parts, but the other story would be filled with action. The fact that Oliver could so seamlessly write both stories at once shows her prowess in writing.
The third book Requiem did a similar thing. Each chapter alternates between Lena after the events in Pandemonium and Hana, Lena’s best friend who she left behind, also in the present. The two different viewpoints and stories again made this book much more interesting than Delirium. I’m surprised by how much I did like the second and third books, as usually I consider the first book the best in most series.
I also hate to say but I didn’t really care for Lena or her love interest Alex. Lena was a boring character. As with many YA books, the main character was made to fit for every reader. She was plain with a flat personality so that young readers can see themselves in her and imprint their own personalities on her. However, Oliver went too far and made her too boring. Yes, she does change and grow stronger throughout the novels, but we start from nothing to work our way up. Plus, her moodiness and the love triangle that comes later is frustrating.
Alex was also boring to me and completely unbelievable. He fell for Lena while watching her run and seeing her joy when high-fiving a statue. Really? You just fell for her without even getting to know her? And when he does get to know her, her views are so saturated by the society and different from his that the love that blooms between them can only be, in my way of thinking, a physical one. Later, she follows and believes him with that doe-eyed trust that shows she’s not actually thinking for herself but just going along with Alex because of hormones. Ugh. Have I mentioned I don’t like the first book? The love is, as most young adult love is, vapid. It is not the strong love on which marriages are built; it is a quick and surface love on which teenage drama is built.
Would I recommend this book trilogy? Yep, especially if you don’t have anything else you want to read. If you’re craving more dystopian YA fiction, this will whet your appetite. Don’t expect a phenomenal storyline or an absence of clichés, but hopefully the artful world building and interesting ways Oliver presents the story will make up for those.