(Originally on the blog, here
This concept could easily have gone awry. Stories about love tend to go that way sometimes. They wander into the realm of cheese and never return, which I think is a shame, because there is a way to write about romantic love without breaking out the Velveeta. And Lauren Oliver does it.
A few reasons why I loved this book:
1. It was well-written. Lauren Oliver strings words together like a poet-- she makes beautiful things surprising, if that makes sense. Sometimes writers fall back on the expected, and it can still be beautiful, but that's not Delirium. Unexpected and stunning-- that's how I would describe the writing.
Read this quote: "Somewhere deeper in the city a motor is running, a distant, earthy growl, like an animal panting. In a few hours the bright blush of morning will push through all that darkness, and shapes will reassert themselves, and people will wake up and yawn and brew coffee and get ready for work, everything the same as usual. Life will go on. Something aches at the very core of me, something ancient and deep and stronger than words: the filament that joins each of us to the root of existence, that ancient thing unfurling and resisting and grappling, desperately for a foothold, a way to stay here, breathe, keep going."
2. The world felt real. With some dystopian books, I have trouble believing that the world could actually turn out that way, even given the right set of circumstances. But with Delirium, I got the sense that it took place in an actual neighborhood, one that I could go and see, but with this looming sense of awfulness that is the fact that no one loves each other, no one can love each other. It's just a few notches away from where we are-- add a few dashes of government control and a "cure" for love and a few more rules/procedures/rituals and you have the world of Delirium. It does not feel like somewhere else; it feels like here.
One thing that helped this were the quotes at the beginning of each chapter, taken from made-up historical/religious/etc. documents related to the "dystopian concept". They gave me the sense that this entire movement in history had occurred before the opening of the novel, and that if I kept reading I could connect the dots from where I stand today and where Lena stood in the narrative.
3. It wasn't just a love story. Oliver's focus is not just on how romantic relationships are impacted by the love cure; she also went into the realm of family and friendship, too. About how those relationships break without love, and about how friendships would change without love. What I love about this is the way it's done-- with subtlety, so that you almost don't notice how terrible things are until suddenly, you do, and you ache for what Lena has lost as a result of the world's dissolution. Something I'd like to see more of in YA books is an exploration of many different kinds of relationships, not just romantic ones, so this book did that for me.
4. The ending. I'm not going to tell you what happens. But...AHHHH.