17 year-old Lena is more than ready to be cured of deliria, the disease we know as love. In her dystopic society, everyone is cured of the infectious disease at 18 and their careers and spouses chosen for them. Lena cannot wait to be cured and to move past the time in her life when she is susceptible to deliria. That is until she meets Alex, a nineteen year-old who may not be exactly what he claims.
Delirium is a quick read and it makes you want to find out exactly how Lena will deal with the few short months she has left until her cure. She counts down the days at first, excited about the change to come in her life, the lessening of the fear associated with the cure, and her future stability. Lena lives with her aunt and a few cousins, since her father died when she was a baby and her mother committed suicide when her cure did not take.
In a lot of ways, the beginning of Delirium reads like Matched – the protagonist does not really understand what is wrong with her controlling society, and in fact she embraces the procedure they will force upon her. Nervous perhaps, but Lena is fully ready to rid herself of the ability to love, much like Cassia was ready to be paired off with the boy her society would dictate.
The plot of the book is an interesting concept – what would the world look like without love as part of it? Or how would it look if only those under 18 could love, but be punished if they did love someone? I felt that Oliver did a nice job of painting the panic that comes from a dangerous disease. Take the bird flu, SARS, swine flu, or any other recent pandemic in the last few years. Human beings, especially in our privileged Western world, will panic and take whatever cure is offered. So if the government managed to convince everyone that love was really a disease that had to be cured, we might end up with a society much like Delirium. At least, that’s what Lauren Oliver wants us to believe.
Because this is a YA novel and a book about the absence of love, of course Lena would meet someone (Alex) and slowly fall for him. While she fights the feelings she has for him, fears for her best friend Hannah’s slightly wild ways, and just wants to be cured so she no longer has to think, Lena slowly begins to awaken to the injustice of her society.
I promise I did like this book while I was reading it, but there were a lot of opportunities that I think Oliver missed. For one, if no one can love, they cannot really feel passionate about anything either. That makes them the perfect citizens to control. They will live the lives they have been given, they will do what they are told, and most of them will never once think about what they have lost. While she touches on this a bit in the second book in the trilogy (because every dystopian novel needs to be in a trilogy now), Oliver has missed a lot of good discussion points in the first book. And while you can argue that Delirium is the awakening and Lena has not had those thoughts yet, her progression into the forbidden territory goes a whole lot faster than say Cassia’s in Matched. As smart as Lena is, I feel she or another character could have put the foundations for these thoughts together.
One thing that I think Oliver needed to touch on was the development of these children. How many studies have you read that state children do better when given affection, and can suffer severely without it? Why are not all of the teenagers in this controlled society running rampant? Sure, they have the government to fear, the expectations for their lives drilled into their heads from day one. But when you are not cured yourself, how does a child deal with the mother who only raises the child because the government told her she had to procreate? Considering everything, the children inDelirium seem a lot like the kids today – a little rebellious, but for the most part well-adjusted. Even Lena, who should be a social outcast because of the way her mother died, has found a way to deal with everything a great deal better than she should considering she has little to no real support system from an adult. I know this feels kind of nit-picky, but I was reading this and wondering why these kids seemed so normal when they were raised by emotionally-detached parents.
While Delirium could be a bit predictable in its plot, I loved Lena as a character. She had normal insecurities alongside those arisen from her society. She is described as average height, average weight, and average looking. She does not feel extraordinary, and in many ways wonders why her beautiful friend Hannah continues to spend time with her. Their friendship is intriguing and interesting, and has more depth to it than the relationship between Lena and Alex. You find yourself rooting for Lena because she could be just like you, but placed in an extraordinary circumstance.
While Delirium does have its shortcomings, it was a good entrant into the ever-popular YA dystopian genre. The sequel, Pandemonium, was even better and I hope that the third in the trilogy will prove to be even better still.