Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver

This is a review based on an ARC copy I received from the publisher.

The Premise: In a unspecified future, the United States government has identified love as a disease and has administered a cure for over forty-three years. Lena is terrified of getting amor deliria nervosa and can’t wait till her eighteenth birthday when she can get the procedure and be safe. She doesn’t want to become like her mother, who was so affected by love that she left Lena and her sister behind, to be cared for by their Aunt Carol and Uncle William. That is, until Lena meets Alex and begins to question whether it’s a good thing to lose the ability to feel excess emotion.

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1 of Delirium here

My Thoughts: The set up for this story is that sixty-five years before it begins, the United States identifies love as a disease that encompasses “stress, heart disease, anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, [and] bipolar disorder”. This disease, so they say, begins with symptoms like difficulty breathing and preoccupation, slides into euphoria and despair, and then spirals into paralysis and death. The country is so rigidly run by this idea that the Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook (aka Shhh), is a new Bible, and cities are enclosed for their protection behind high electrified fences. Patrols and raids are regularly carried out. All citizens are required to be cured at eighteen, and are ever villigent should their friends or neighbors show signs of the disease. Of course Lena believes in all of this because she’s grown up in this society. The author does a good job conveying Lena’s frightfulness, particularly in the beginning of the book. Lena is the narrator, and she often uses words like “anxiety”, “blur”, “dizzy”, “suddenly dazzled” and “flashing” when she describes a situation that isn’t her norm, so much so that I began to feel like I needed a Dramamine reading about her experiences.

As a reader, however, I know that the whole basis for this society: “love is a disease”, is a lie, and that Lena’s fears are unnecessary. In order for me to accept this dystopian scenario, I needed more than the descriptions of Portland gripped by bureaucracy and fear. I needed to understand how something generally accepted as good could be seen as something bad. This book didn’t deliver that. All I had was Lena’s point of view, and she was clearly misinformed. There are infinitesimal snatches of information (a religion founded by scientists, the blitz), which has something to do with how things became the way they are, but it’s not clear how it fits with Lena’s present. It may be that book two will delve into the past, but I have no guarantee of it. As it is, I felt like I was missing the foundation to accept the premise that love came to be classified as a deadly disease. How was the population convinced? But by who and for what reason? How did this dystopia come to be? I don’t know, and I think that weakens any message about society that Delirium may be trying to convey.

To continue reading, I decided to trust that explanations would be forthcoming, and just focus on Lena’s story. The writing is very good. There are plenty of lovely passages just describing Lena’s day to day teenage life and how it’s been affected by amor deliria nervosa. It’s clear that it has touched every aspect of Lena’s life from her all-girl schooling to her careful choice of words in public. It hangs over every relationship. Conversations with her best friend, Hana involve dealing with phone tapping and checking for eavesdroppers. The biggest impact on her life however, is the procedure, when she will finally be cured, which means she will be Paired off with a boy selected by the government. On that day, Lena and all other teens will forget any feelings they had for friends or family. Until then, Lena experiences all the highs and lows of being a teenager, which includes a closeness with the charismatic Hana and a regimented home life with her aunt and uncle and their other wards, Jenny and Gracie.

Then there is of course, the relationship she begins with nineteen year old Alex.  He’s a boy who seems very different from everyone she knows. In the process of falling for Alex, Lena discovers what love is and how twisted her society has become because it has suppressed it. The romance here was very clandestine and intensely described, but while I could appreciate Lena’s and Alex’s feelings on a logical level, and I wanted them to beat the odds, there was something that held me back in believing the romance viscerally. I think that my problem was that their initial attraction felt off.  Lena seemed like a scared rabbit to me, but as someone “awake” to Alex. That he has been interested in her from afar didn’t fly, so I stayed unmoved about their initial connection. After this there was a scene when Alex and Lena are first alone together which I found compelling, followed by a montage of summer days spent together. All nice, but it was only at the end of the story that Alex really stepped up as a hero and convinced me of his feelings. Although Delirium ends on a bittersweet note, it was the perfect good-bye.

Overall: It’s very well written and it has an interesting premise, but overall I’d mark Delirium as “very good”, not “excellent”. I think that love as a disease was not believable enough for me – I ended up wondering what the REAL reason for a society built on this lie was, and feeling frustrated that I couldn’t see one. I hope that the idea is expanded more in the next book, so that we can see the history behind Lena’s world. Otherwise, I really liked how this story progressed, how Lena grew and changed, the careful way Portland under a totalitarian regime was constructed, and the bittersweet ending that leaves no illusions about what it means to love.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews (there are A LOT!):
The Book Smugglers – DNF
The Hiding Spot – positive
Debbie’s World of Books – positive
Imperial Beach Teen Blog – positive
One Librarian Reviews – comparison of Delirium with Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies – 5 stars
The Compulsive Reader – positive
All Things Urban Fantasy – 5 bats (out of 5)
Book Reviews by Jess / The Cozy Reader – Perfect Score
Princess Bookie – 5/5
S. Krishna’s Books – positive
Karin’s Book Nook – positive
Book Sake – positive
Reading with Tequila – 2 out of 5
Ink and Paper – positive
Presenting Lenore – 5 out of 5
Need_tea – C grade

Song inspired by the book. Written & performed by a fan:

Videos of Lauren Oliver discussing Delirium on One & Two

3 thoughts on “Delirium by Lauren Oliver

  1. I’m glad you ended up liking this Janice. Makes me think I should’ve stuck with it but I don’t think I’ll pick it up again. Don’t want to be wasting the little time I have for reading on books I’m not feeling.

    • I agree, if you weren’t feeling it, it’s not worth making yourself try again. I felt like ultimately I liked it but it had a lot of weaknesses. I completely get why it didn’t work for a lot of people.

  2. Pingback: Delirium | One More Page

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