Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I have been wanting to read Lauren Oliver since I saw the cover for Before I Fall, but it just hadn't happened yet.  Luckily for me, I saw Delirium and the rest of its trilogy on my sister's bookshelf and she agreed to let me borrow them.  Delirium is based in an alternate reality set in our present time.  In this world, love is considered a disease and the cause for all that ails the world.  Scientists have discovered a cure which is administered to each person shortly after he or she turns eighteen.  Many people would like the cure to be available at a much younger age, but the side effects are too severe in children.

Lena is counting down the days until she can receive the cure.  All her life she has been told that amor deliria nervosa "affects your mind so that you cannot think clearly, or make rational decisions about your own well-being" and that the cure will keep her "safe, and free from pain".  Love is a deadly disease and the scientists have discovered that what was once called stress, heart disease, anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, bipolar disorder and more were really only symptoms of the deliria.  When Lean falls in love with a boy, at first she resists the idea of changing her plans to be cured.  As the days continue, however, she realizes that she cannot give him up.  Eventually she decides that she would rather die than be cured and they plan their escape.

One thing that I find compelling in this series is that this isn't some post-apocalyptic world far in the future as so many books of this type seem to be.  This is a world in which scientific discovery and politics have conspired to create a new regime.  At the time that this story begins, this new order has been in place for so long that no one remembers what life was like before the cure.  The government's propaganda and strict laws with unendurable punishments keep people from asking questions or knowing anything beyond what they are taught to believe.  Anyone who shows any tendency toward disagreement is considered infected and arrested and locked away for life or executed.  Beyond the walls of the city are the Wilds that the government has claimed to have "sanitized", but that are rumored to be filled with terrible creatures called "Invalids"- people living without the cure.

Living without love is so incomprehensible to me and I think that is what makes this book so interesting.  A world destroyed by nuclear war or climate change or some other kind of catastrophe is somewhat expected in dystopian literature by this point.  The removal of love from society, however, offers a completely new angle.  As a mother, I can't help but wonder how one would be able to parent without love.  Loving our children is what motivates parents to care for them as infants and beyond.  It is why exhausted new mothers continue to wake every hour or two to feed and care for their children.  At one point in the book, Lena recalls being a small child and falling down and getting hurt.  When her mother comforts her as she cries another mother chastises her and tells her she should be ashamed of herself.  Comfort is a symptom of the disease.

I feel that Oliver has done a masterful job of creating a full environment, bringing in details that drive home life under totalitarian rule.  I also loved that each chapter is headed with a quote either from The Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook or The Book of Shhh or from some other form of government literature.  They lend even further texture to the world she has designed.

I'll leave you with this passage about Lena's older sister:

Even then she refused the procedure and the comfort it would give her, and on the day the cure was to be administered it took four scientists and several needles full of tranquilizer before she would submit, before she would stop scratching with her long, sharp nails, which had gone uncut for weeks, and screaming and cursing and calling for Thomas.  I watched them come for her, to bring her to the labs; I sat in a corner, terrified, while she spit and hissed and kicked, and I thought of my mom and dad.
That afternoon, thought I was still more than a decade away from safety, I began to count the months until my procedure.

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