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Delirium by Lauren Oliver

picture of book cover

Before I give my thoughts on Delirium , I have to pause for a moment and say:

OMG you guys, I met Lauren Oliver, and she’s awesome and really funny!  And her talk at Anderson’s was the high point of my week, even if I had to go home in the middle of it because my mother called the store hysterical because my cat had escaped. This was one of the more mortifying experiences of my life. Luckily, said cat knew upon my return that he was busted, he was escorted inside, and I made it back to Anderson’s in time to buy a copy, talk with Ms. Oliver and get my book signed, and the message she wrote was awesome.

Luckily, all that drama proved to be worth it, as I suspect Delirium is well on its way to becoming as popular as The Hunger Games (Book 1) , or at least a cult classic.

That's largely because Oliver has come up with a blockbuster central idea: what if we lived in a futuristic society where love was declared a disease, and scientists had found a way to cure it? At the book's onset, 17-year-old Lena is on the cusp of graduation from high school and months away from being "cured." Both parents are dead, she lives with her aunt and uncle and cousins, and society clicks along with no wars, no grief, and no passion. There's even a manual on living life safely and calmly (The Book of Shh) that twists the Bible into new meditations on science, i.e. "Lord Keep our hearts fixed; As you fixed the planets in their orbits And cooled the chaos of emerging" sets off Psalm 21.

While those who have enjoyed The Hunger Games and other dystopian YA fiction will like Delirium, Oliver's vision of society is dramatically different and even arguably utopian. Who hasn't cried their heart out after a breakup and thought "I wish this would go away?" There's a pragmatic meditation by Lena on being matched post-cure to a man of the same social status. "I'm glad I don't have to choose—but more than that, I'm glad I don't have to make someone choose me," Lena thinks. "At least I'll end up with somebody." If that's not an insight into what an average teenage girl would think, I don't know what is.

Of course, you know that there would be no story if Lena didn't meet the swoon-worthy Alex and fall in love. But what's even more interesting is how she begins to view the role of the family, of how her mother whispered a forbidden "I love you" before committing suicide. There's a great scene with Lena's Aunt Carol at the end that makes you wonder how much secrecy and conspiracy lies at the heart of Lena's family. The book is a tad long, especially because you know it's part of a triology, but Oliver keeps the story moving along.

In addition to being fun to read, there's lot in Delirium that can be mulled over in library groups, book clubs, or among child/parent. It's a great book to give a teenage reader - there's little violence, no sex and even those offended by the twisting of religion can use it as a starting point for a good discussion.