Review: Delirium – Lauren Oliver

delirium - lauren oliver

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love — the deliria — blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold.
Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

I’ve been hearing about this novel since… early 2011. Actually, I spent months (especially during Border’s Bookstore’s final sales) stalking this novel, somehow never able to find a copy. Thankfully, my best friend Angel finally sent me the book as a belated birthday/Christmas gift, and naturally, I read (devoured) it immediately.

Delirium is a masterpiece of a novel — there truly is no better way to describe it. Everything about it is gorgeous — the writing, the beautiful and completely dreamlike atmosphere, Alex. There is just something extremely lyrical about Lauren Oliver’s prose and, to put it simply, I was mesmerized by her words.

I could go on forever about how intriguing I find the premise, and how compelling the plot actually is, but instead of reiterating the summary, I’ll focus on the characters. Delirium dedicates a great deal of its story to Lena and her interactions with Alex, Hana, her family, and her mother. Although this causes the book to move at a slow pace (until the end, when the pace picks up a little on the abrupt-side), what I love about it is that it really allows the relationships between these characters to develop. Every relationship in Delirium revealed something new about Lena, and I enjoyed getting to know her through the way she behaved with her aunt and uncle, and especially through the bond she shared with Grace, her young, self-professed mute cousin.

Lena’s friendship with Hana, her best friend for years, is one of the most interesting aspects of this novel. Instead of just establishing that they are friends, Lauren Oliver uses their conflicting thoughts, actions, and social standing to challenge their friendship and ultimately, to develop their understanding of each other. Their struggles are believable, and it is refreshing to see two characters who care about each other truly deepen and re-define their friendship so that it survives. (It’s also brilliant how the differences between Hana and Lena’s lives are used to illustrate how far each girl rebels against their dystopia. Because they are both well-characterized, their situations are easy to imagine, and their actions and decisions make sense.)

And of course, I adored Lena and Alex’s relationship. I know a lot of people love that it’s a “forbidden love”, but their encounters appealed to me for so much more. I don’t know how to describe it other than “endearing”. I truly enjoyed the hesitant, genuine, and downright charming way these two characters dance around each other, and I found myself cheering for them from their very first meeting to the bitter end. Alex is an adorably mischievous boy, and although there is much left to discover about him, I couldn’t help but smile every time he was on the page. I love the way Lena and Alex get to know each other before anything between them actually happens. Their meetings are believable, as are her reactions to the things he does and says, and the way they clash with everything she knows. I also love that Alex is actually not the reason why Lena questions her world. It takes Alex and Hana’s words, and an extremely horrific scene for her to even consider that things are not the way she always believed, and she actually grapples with the information in a reasonable, honest way. Sadly, because the relationship really had me rooting for the characters (despite all odds), the ending, even though it completely took me by surprise, absolutely paralyzed me. I won’t give anything away, but it is heart-wrenching and emotional and… I still haven’t recovered yet. But it is also why Delirium is breathtakingly beautiful, and why I needed the sequel immediately.

Spoilery Scribbles

For the most part, Delirium does a fantastic job introducing the world it takes place in through the things Lena sees and the way she lives her life. However, because Lena isn’t omniscient, she doesn’t understand that much about her own world, and as a result, the reader is left out as well. A lot of it can be inferred, and I rather like the idea of discovering the society, the “known” things and the things unknown, through Lena. But I do have many questions about the way things work in this world, such as why and how the United States became the way it is, and why the government chose to blame its problems, as well as society’s problems, on love. (Did they really fear amor deliria nervosa, or was there some other thing they were hoping to accomplish/prevent? Some other conspiracy at work?)

I wonder how Lena’s society would treat “illegally loving” same-sex relationships, since segregation wouldn’t be able to deter same-sex couples from… existing (for lack of a better word). I know it is very briefly mentioned in the book as something that rarely occurs, but nothing more is said about it. (Interestingly, I felt like this entire novel, minus the scientific aspects concerning amor deliria nervosa as a disease, could actually happen in today’s world – not in the United States, but in a theocracy forbidding opposite-sex interactions.) So a lot of the setting’s history is unknown, but knowing that there are two more novels after this one, I have hope that the world building, which is fantastic (if not completely clear), will improve.

One genius thing that Lauren Oliver does to help readers better understand the way Lena’s society thinks is add epigraphs to the beginning of every chapter, all quoting passages from the works (literary, historical, and scientific) that children would have studied in school. I loved this insight into their culture and thinking, and it really did help me imagine myself in that place and time. I also loved that the book their society most depended upon was referred to as “The Book of Shhh”. I thought it was extremely clever, given that the official title was “The Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook” (SHHH!), and people were not supposed to talk about love or the disease or anything in that society at all (so it was like the book was silencing them). Maybe I’m just amused by anagrams easily, but I thought it was brilliant.

Delirum is gorgeous, poignant, and so much more. I cannot stress how much I enjoyed it, and how much I’d recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who loves dystopian fiction, or anyone who enjoys gorgeous books with a stunning, imaginative story and a powerful, heartbreaking message. Mostly, I’d recommend it to anyone who believes in the beauty and strength of love, and the way it touches us to our very core.

“I love you. Remember. They cannot take it.”



9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Samantha
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 10:55:21

    I can’t wait to finally read this. 😀 You and Meg and Angel have all made it sound amazing. (…Meg has read it hasn’t she? Or maybe I’m now confusing her with someone else… But I thought it was Meg.)


    • aimee
      Jul 08, 2012 @ 11:09:19

      Yep, Meg has read it too.

      And YES. I can’t wait for you to read it either. It’ll seem kind of masochistic, but this book is incredibly powerful, and aghhhhhhhh, I have ALL the feelings for Alex and Lena and Alex/Lena. It’s definitely my favorite dystopian.


  2. megtao
    Jul 09, 2012 @ 10:32:10

    I love the little bits from the stuff at the beginning of the chapters. Whenever that kind of thing is shown in books I am so happy because it makes the world so much bigger and more believable.


    • aimee
      Jul 09, 2012 @ 21:25:35

      Yes! This exactly! Before I read Delirium, I wondered how, since Lena obviously didn’t know much about the history of her world either and there was only so much we could get from her life and interactions, Lauren Oliver would express the world with a first person limited narrative. A lot of people I know actually feel like there’s so much about the world that we still don’t know, which is kind of true, but I thought the epigraphs did an awesome job of filling in some blanks and making the world seem just as you said – bigger and more believable. I kind of missed them a lot in Pandemonium, but I guess they wouldn’t have really made sense in that book…


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