Let’s make something clear from the start – my review of this book is totally skewed. It benefits from three things – it’s not fantasy (which I’ve been reading too much of lately); I’m not current buried in a wave of super similar dystopian YA lit; the audiobook was read exceptionally well by Sarah Drew (who I love). Therefore, I am comfortable saying that I really enjoyed this book. The more I think about it, the more certain I am that a lot of my opinion is based on the way it was read.
One of the benefits of audiobooks is that you aren’t forcefully confronted with overwriting. You don’t have to find the flow of the sentence. A good reader will find a way to make it work and you can just sail along unaware. Delirium had its share of overwriting, but it was helped along by a pretty cool foundation – Love is a disease and it must be cured. Every member of society is basically lobotomized at the age of 18 and cured of the disease – by government mandate.
The focus of the novel is romantic love, but it touches on aspects of the emotion I found much more interesting. Love stretches so far beyond romantic, partner to partner love. It’s love of your friends. Love of activities. Love of your family. In this reality, it is now illegal to be passionate about anything. Lena loves running. After the cure, she won’t. She loves her friend, Hana and cousin, Grace. After the cure, she won’t. Her mother was shunned for comforting her child. They had to hide their laughter and dancing. Buck up seems to be the way of this society. It’s a direction I can see being the wave of the future, not the cure but the disinterest. That is a terrifying thought.
We live in a society that is losing the ability to deal with emotions. Feelings are expressed with the tap of a few keys, leading to extreme over/under sharing. There are those who share every single feeling through social media. And a reactionary wave of those who, not wanting to been as on oversharer, share nothing. There are the people who insist on contrary responses simply for reaction. And then there’s the group of people who exist within a false media persona – I don’t mean people who have online alter egos, but those people who post overly positive information to hide the problems of their actual lives. Every emotion is so easy to express, no one actually has to go through the process of feeling. A quick post about having a bad day and there are instantly a dozen ‘that’s too bad’, ‘thinking about you’, ‘you’re supported’ responses, where neither party ever has to process any of the emotions being expressed. So, when someone is actually forced to feel something, it becomes so intense it’s overwhelming. We are living in a society of heightened unreality. And while the idea of removing the ability to love is pretty farfetched, it’s entirely possible that we’re creating a generation of people steering towards the type of society where that might seem like a viable option.
But back to the book. Romeo and Juliet as a cautionary tale? Yes, please. I’ve always believed that is how that story should be taught (see my Valentine’s Day post). Excellent. Oh, wait. Yup. There it is. It’s now the romantic story to which Lena compares her love with Alex. I just don’t believe that Lena is willing to give up everything she’s been raised to believe in order to be with Alex. I believe that in the final act of the book, she came to understand that she would be giving up so much more than just him by getting The Cure. She’d be giving up everything that made her real. She didn’t want to become empty. She was willing to risk her life rather than give it up.
There was one line in the book that made me angry (one problem with audiobooks – you can’t just flip to find a quote, so you’re getting a paraphrase). Lena says something along the lines of ‘at least if we’re going to die, we’ll die together’. No! Bad Lena. You just found out your mother is still alive and that there’s a thriving community of resistors who exist outside of the sterilized world of Portland. You should not be okay with dying. Not for a boy.
Oliver turns the story a bit and leaves us with a bit of a cliffhanger. Alex has been shot. Is he injured or actually dead? How will that drive Lena in the next book? My hope is that Oliver uses this opportunity to explore some of the ideas I’ve already mentioned about love being about more than romance. And I hope she finds a way to bring Grace back. She’s a rad little kid.
If I’d read this book last year, during the dystopian boom, I may not have liked it as much. Even now, I kept flashing back to Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies.
There were a lot of similarities between the two storylines – medical intervention to fix a critical social flaw, a group of rebels living outside the restricted cities, a government that acts with force to maintain order – but I liked this one better. They were both audiobooks, so I feel the comparison is fair. Delirium felt less superficial than the Uglies series. And I liked Lena a lot more than Tally. My opinion of that series is tainted because I didn’t enjoy the later books as much as the first. We’ll see how Oliver’s series holds up in the long run, but I’m hopeful. I feel like Oliver has more to say – without passion, is anything really worth it?