Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: Dystopia, Romance, Young Adult
Amor deliria nervosa, n. also known as “love” in the old times, this is a disease that can kill you both when you have it and when you don’t. Symptoms include preoccupation, impaired reasoning skills, periods of euphoria, obsessive thoughts, etc. Unless there are emergencies, everyone is scheduled to be “cured” at the age of eighteen; everyone also undergoes “evaluation,” where your future husband/wife is assigned to you based on your answers to some questions. All uncureds are required to stay away from the opposite sex.
Can anyone really be safe and happy in a world where love is considered a fatal ailment? What will you do if you finally realize that the fences that are supposed to protect you are also caging you from the truth? This is the tilt where Lauren Oliver’s dystopian world in Delirium rotates, and in the middle of it all is a plain teenager who can’t wait to be cured, Lena Haloway.
It’s no secret that I’m infected by the dystopian/post-apocalyptic virus that’s continuously spreading in the world of literature nowadays, particularly in the young adult department. I haven’t read a lot of novels under this genre, but it’s easy to pick up common themes. Rebellion/resistance is at the hub of most books, its automatic spoke consisting of defiant protagonists that go against the established laws and take down the abusive government…mostly in the course of three books. The Hunger Games trilogy is by far my favorite, and truth be told I think it set the bar in this genre. I plan to bury my nose in more post-apocalyptic books, but I tend to delay reading those that use the same formula as THG. Then came a story about “love” as a sickness, and I thought, “That sure is a catchy idea!” I readily grabbed it from the shelf.
It’s true that the best way to enjoy new books is not to get your hopes too high. I liked Oliver’s debut novel Before I Fall, but I really can’t say the same for Delirium.
Delirium’s main idea is appealing and I wanted to find out how its author will deal with the domino-like line of questions that pops out after the concept is laid down. In my opinion, Oliver isn’t so successful in answering them. The origin of love as a mental illness (the whole package—the when’s, the who’s, and even the how’s) is not thoroughly discussed. Obviously there is government resistance, and my first hunch is that the “cure” is more than what it seems. In my mind, the government is transforming the world of love into a world of apathy through these vague brain surgeries because they don’t want the people to be angered and to revolt against them, in fear that they may end up like the rest of the world, destroyed perhaps by wars. Okay, maybe that’s just my overactive imagination—let’s say they just want to control the people like inanimate objects while feeding them the idea that they’re safe and sound. I can feel that Oliver has something up her sleeve, but I never got to learn what that is. Maybe I’ll find it out in the sequels, but if that’s the case, then Delirium as the first installment did not quite achieve its goal of cementing a strong foundation. Leaving questions normally makes the reader go hungry for more, but leaving too much makes the story look like a Swiss Cheese, full of plot holes.
Speaking of plot holes, I’d like to point out the very big flaw in the “Law of Segregation” in this book’s universe, where boys and girls are separated because they may fall in love. How about LGBTQ? Boys can love boys. Girls can love girls. It’s impossible that there’s no record of this. In a world where love is already considered dangerous, how do they deal with same-sex amor deliria nervosa? I think that will be interesting to explore because even in our society today, homosexuality is already considered by many as a disease. I hope Oliver will prove me wrong, that it's not a flaw at all and it's just waiting to be solved; I hope she touches this kind of love in the next installments, and touches it effectively.
If the epigraphs that came from fictional pamphlets and textbooks in that world were not included, the plot and the world-building will appear so thin. The characters are okay albeit bordering on stereotypical young adults. Most of the time, Lena is toddling precariously on the edge of being a Mary Sue, occasionally showing Bella Swan-esque qualities. Her thought processes are pretty interesting and thought-provoking though, and sometimes her memories can subtly break your heart (I’ll give her that). Alex is the regular love interest—you know, the once mysterious guy now sitting with you under the stars and reading romantic poetry. There are two more books, so there’s more room for them to develop.
When it comes to originality, Delirium doesn’t stand out that much. It’s strikingly similar to Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series (dead ringers—just replace the word “love” with “ugliness”), and I’ve also heard of this book called Matched by Allie Condie, which shares a few similar concepts with Delirium, particularly the prearranged matches.
There are a few things that redeemed this book for me. One is how Oliver showed that hate is not really the worst thing but indifference. She painted horrifying images that can make you think. I realized how without love, everything seems to be an insipid dollhouse; the people inside are marionettes trying to function normally according to the pattern that everyone else is following. It’s a choreographed world. Imagine a family that is only a family because it’s dictated by the authority; imagine how all the movies, music, and books that come your way never deal with anything that can tug at your heartstrings. What’s the point? Eradicating love is like taking away everything that matters, and it’s a very harrowing thought.
Second is Oliver’s writing style. It’s quite different from Before I Fall, but I caught glimpses of the poetic curls at the edges of her prose. They’re usually overlapped by the book’s initial slow pacing, but they’re still there.
Third is the climax at the end. I think that’s what really made me decide not to completely rule out reading Pandemonium, the sequel. :)