Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Review: Delirium

Originally published on January 2, 2012.

In 2011, I was foolish enough to try to review all 54 books that I read during the year in a single post. The post itself took ages to write, and I found that I couldn't provide nearly as many details as I wanted when it was all bundled like that. So it seems far more reasonable to post individually about each book that I read in 2012.

The first book I read this year (and just finished today) was Delirium by Lauren Oliver. It was recommended to me by my fellow camp girl, English teacher, and book lover, Sarah.
The book is set sometime in the unspecified future and is my (current) favorite genre, young adult dystopian fiction. The basic premise is that the feeling of "love" has been idenified as a dangerous disease, called amor deliria nervosa. A passage that basically explains that idea:

"Things weren't always as good as they are now. In school we learned that in the old days, the dark days, people didn't realize how deadly a disease love was. For a long time they even viewed it as a good thing, something to be celebrated and pursued. Of course that's one of the reasons it's so dangerous: It affects your mind so that you cannot think clearly, or make rational decisions about your own well-being. (That's sympton number twelve, listed in the am deliria nervosa section of the twelfth edition of The Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook, or The Book of Shhh, as we call it.) Instead people back then named other diseases--stress, heart disease, anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, bipolar disorder--never realizing that these were, in fact, only symptoms that in the majority of cases could be traced back to the effects of amor deliria nervosa." (pages 2-3)

When people in this society turn 18, they have a "procedure" (brain surgery) which removes their desire and ability to love. Around this same time, people also undergo "evaluations," in which they are interviewed by a panel of scientists to "learn about their personalities," although people have found that the more generalized their answers are, the better they score. Based on the results of these examinations, people are paired with someone of the opposite sex who is roughly their own age. Without ever meeting (because boys and girls are strictly segregated), these two are promised to each other in marriage. Their careers, future income levels, and future number of children are also determined for them.

The main character, Lena, begins the story mere months from her 18th birthday, anxiously awaiting her own procedure. She wants nothing more than to be cured of emotion and live out the rest of her days in a bland, calm sameness. Of course, she has her reasons--primarily, her mother's suicide when Lena was six, a result of a failed third attempt at the procedure--as well as other skeletons in her family's closet. But as you might guess, things get complicated.

When I started reading this book, I got kind of stuck in comparing it to other books that I have read. The premise of a society without love (as well as various other aspects of the world in which Lena lived) made me think of 1984 by George Orwell, and the idea of a mind-altering operation for teenagers in order to create a calm society made me think of Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. Lena's eagerness to go along with the operation until her best friend Hana opened her eyes to other possibilities, and Lena's subsequent relationship with Alex (because of course there has to be a boy!) also strongly reminded me of the Tally/Shay/David relationships in Uglies. But once I got past those similarities, I loved, loved, LOVED this book and sobbed through probably the last 100 pages (of 441).

For starters, I thought it was beautifully written. I also loved the introductory quotes at the beginning of each chapter, supposedly taken from books in Lena's society, which provided a great window into the peoples' mindsets. And I especially loved that it focused not just on romantic love, but on all types of love: families, friendships, and everyday beauty and joy. The procedure took all of that away. Parents knew that they had responsibility to raise their children properly, but they didn't feel any sort of attachment to them. Children formed friendships, but after they had the procedure, those friendships became nothing more than dim memories. The friendship between Lena and Hana was one of my favorite parts of the book; I thought it was both realistically and beautifully portrayed.

Two thumbs up on this book. Run out to your local library and check out a copy!!

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