Delirium, for me, was an exercise in disappointment. For full disclosure, maybe I'm not being fair to the book. Because reading this was when my toler...moreDelirium, for me, was an exercise in disappointment. For full disclosure, maybe I'm not being fair to the book. Because reading this was when my tolerance for the formula of the currently-popular YA dystopian romance broke, and I spent most of the book thinking about how prototypical the entire endeavor was. Inevitably, Delirium is going to draw some comparisons to Matched. Their premises are extremely similar, and so is the progression of plot events. Personally, I preferred Matched, maybe just because I read it first so I wasn't thinking "I feel like I've read this before" the entire novel. (Not to say that Matched was flawless -- the two suffer from some of the same flaws.)
Among them are an incredibly predictable narrative and a difficult-to-believe premise. I won't "spoil" any of the plot points, but I'll say: if you think it's going to happen, it probably will. However, the same was true of a lot of these novels (Matched among them).
The biggest flaws in Delirium are world-building and character. Lena, the protagonist, is not particularly engaging. She is constantly thinking of herself as an in-between person, ie, average, and until the very end of the novel, she is... well, completely average. She's defined more by the people around her -- her dead mother, her vivacious best friend, her charming love interest, her stifling aunt, than there is much to Lena. She's a cipher, a stand-in for the reader, not an interesting person in her own right. The reader sympathizes with her because they would want to be friends with Hana and kiss Alex and roll their eyes at Aunt Carol, but Lena herself has nothing interesting to say. A moment in which we're supposed to see how different she is -- she tells her interviewers her favorite color is the gray of the sky just before sunrise -- only makes her stand out in her own society, not to the reader. She doesn't even tell them this "unapproved" answer because she wants to rebel, she just panics in a high-stress situation. In other words, Lena is dull as dirt.
The world-building in the book is largely lacking. There are some fascinating ideas to be mined here -- the distortion of Christianity by the government, for instance -- but that's mostly kept to the book's epigraphs and hardly touched on in the narrative itself. There are familiar brand names mentioned (Stop-n-Save, Fritos), which I think was supposed to make the world of Delirium feel not too far off, but instead feels lazy and out of place. This technique might have worked better in the hands of someone who was more skilled speculative fiction, but here, it feels like Oliver is having trouble going outside her comfort zone of contemporary settings.
Then there are the contradictions within the book, which I'm surprised her editor didn't catch. For instance, Lena goes to have her evaluation and we learn that though she goes by her aunt and uncle's name, Tiddle, legally, she still has her parents' name, Haloway. The evaluator calls her name, Lena Haloway. Later on, we learn that Lena is short for Magdalena. Why would the evaluator insist on her legal surname but call her by a nickname? This is just one example of things out of place, or not thought through.
(I'm going to get into some spoilers here, so skip this paragraph if you don't want any.)
Similarly, the novel contradicts itself regarding how harsh the government is. It's hard to believe that a robust and wide-reaching rebel movement could and would flourish under the same regime that ties a teenage girl to a bed for days for the crime of falling in love, an action which seems unnecessarily cruel when they can lobotomize her and solve the 'love' problem. The government supposedly takes a hard-line approach to dissent, but allows the houses of former rebels to stand empty, a perfect hotbed for continued rebel activity.
I'd like to see a dystopian government that was more permissive, actually. It would be more realistic. Which is how the partying in empty houses comes across. But then it's contradicted later in the book -- they are clearly not permissive. The result is an extremely uneven sense of the world, and it's, frankly, just not very well-done.
(That's it for spoilers.)
Also uneven is the prose. At times, Oliver uses a writerly, almost lyrical style. Other times, Lena is a chatty teenager. I feel like either of these can work, but switching back and forth just makes Oliver seem inconsistent.
In all, it was a huge disappointment. And for now, I'll be putting YA dystopian aside, because how quickly this book soured for me is evidence that the genre is getting very tired, for this reader, at least. (less)
I had been looking forward to reading Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children for a long time. I was taken in by the creepy cover, the mysterious...moreI had been looking forward to reading Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children for a long time. I was taken in by the creepy cover, the mysterious title, and the promise of a slightly scary fantasy read.
Maybe I was expecting the wrong things from this book. The beginning of the novel did give me the creeps at some points. But once the mysteries start to unravel and the more information you learn, the less creepy it gets, which is really the opposite of how it should have been (anything with horror elements should get creepier as it goes on, right?).
Basically, the book falls apart about 65% of the way through, when the narrator learns the answers to most of his questions and a horrible threat seems to emerge out of nowhere. The main flaw of the book seems to be that the two main elements of the novel: a boy figuring out a mystery about his grandfather, and a threat to a unique word, are not tied together very well.
I did enjoy the photographs and the beginning of the book, but the end let me down. It'd be hard for me to recommend this book, but maybe that's just because it disappointed me so much. (less)
"How to be black" is, as Thurston admits, a huge topic that one book can never really hope to tackle in its entirety. But Thurston admits as much, and...more"How to be black" is, as Thurston admits, a huge topic that one book can never really hope to tackle in its entirety. But Thurston admits as much, and his best effort is certainly worth reading. As a white woman, of course I never have been and never will be black, but I think that this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand race and racism in the United States. Much of the book is deeply personal and the book is really a strange chimera of memoir and satire. But it works because Thurston uses his personal experiences to support his thesis: that there are infinite ways of forming your own black identity, but also to show that there are near-universal black experiences in America (the chapter 'How to Be the Black Friend' does this especially).
It would be expected that a man who works for the Onion would be funny, but Thurston's uses humor to great effect. His satirical manner of poking fun at uncomfortable situations helps illuminate when and how white people are prone to making behaving, if not badly, at least in an ignorantly. There were some jokes that had me laughing so hard I had to put my book down.
Thurston discusses hard topics, and painful topics, but rather than taking an angry or vengeful bent, his tone is hopeful, which made the book that much more rewarding to read. In all, I would highly recommend How to Be Black to anyone. Even if you're not interested in the topic being discussed, it's hilariously funny, and you just might learn something.(less)