It's funny, when I started Lauren Oliver's new book, Delirium, I wasn't thinking I was going to like it as much as Before I Fall. Part of it was that I just couldn't imagine anything being as powerful as her first novel, and part of it was that it sounded so different. Before I Fall is a modern-day tale of a popular high school girl who has the chance to make some changes to her last day, a day that ends in her death, and how it changes her every time she has to live the day over again. Delirium, on the other hand, is a futuristic dystopian novel, very much like The Giver (one of my all-time favorite YA novels).
Lena lives in a world where love has been diagnosed as a disease, and people have found a cure — a surgical operation that is done on everyone at age 18, forcibly if necessary. There is a small resistance who live in "the Wilds," the uncontrolled areas beyond the border fences that enclose every city, but Lena and everyone else she knows are so thoroughly brainwashed to think of love as an illness that they actually think forced brain surgeries, raids, and lifetime imprisonment are good things rather than bad. There is even a degree of paranoia that reminds me of the Red Scare in the mid-twentieth century, where suspected sympathizers to the resistance lose their jobs, their homes, their entire lives.
It took me a little while to feel like I was getting into the novel. It's not a fast-moving, action-driven novel at first — although the action does start picking up substantially toward the end, a lot of the first third or half of the novel is Lena explaining what's going on, leaking backstory here and there (her mother's inability to be cured and eventual suicide has followed her, marked her, all her life). She is nearly 18 and will be getting the "cure" soon, and although she believes that it will save her from her mother's fate, she meets a boy and things start happening to make her question whether the cure — her entire society — is truly right and good.
In this way, you gradually start seeing the ugly side of their "perfect" society. By the last third or so of the novel, I couldn't put it down, and I was rooting so hard for Lena that I just knew something awful was going to happen. It wasn't what I expected, but it did make me cry. Ultimately, it's a novel that asks, "What if humans found a way to keep themselves from feeling? What would happen to our humanity?" And I don't think the novel's answer to that question is too far from the mark.
Amazingly, I think Lauren Oliver has done it again — written another absolutely haunting YA novel. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!