email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
The Creek"Who Could That Be at This Hour?"100 Things Guys Need to Know3 NBS of Julian Drew3 Willows33 Minutes47A Company of FoolsA Corner Of The UniverseA Crack In The LineA Frog ThingA Great and Terrible BeautyA Monster CallsA Monster CallsA Northern LightA Step From HeavenA Step Toward FallingA Stir of BonesA Tragic Kind of WonderfulA Walk in the Rain With a BrainA Wish for Wings That WorkAdam Canfield of the SlashAfterAlice MacLeod, Realist at LastAll Rivers Flow to the SeaAll SoulsAll the Bright PlacesAll the WayAll Unquiet ThingsAlways Forever MaybeAmerican GirlsAmong the HiddenAmong the ImpostorsAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of a MisfitAngus, Thongs and Full-Frontal SnoggingAnnie's BabyAnything Could HappenAristotle and Poetic JusticeAristotle and the Secrets of LifeArizona KidArtemis FowlAs Simple as SnowAssessment and Treatment of Childhood Problems, Second EditionAt the End of WordsAway Laughing on a Fast CamelBad Girls ClubBad RatsBang!Beating HeartBeauty QueensBecause of Winn-DixieBefore I DieBefore I FallBetween Mom and JoBeyond MagentaBig Mouth & Ugly GirlBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBlack HelicoptersBlack-eyed SuzieBlind SightBog ChildBoy Kills ManBoy ProofBoysBoys & SexBoys Are DogsBoys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking BootsBraceBrainstormBrave HeartsBreakfast Served AnytimeBreaking PointBronx MasqueradeBruisesBrushing Mom's HairBrutalBurnCatalystCathy's BookCathy's KeyCaveat EmptorCharlie and the Chocolate FactoryCharlie and the Great Glass ElevatorChild Insanity in England, 1845-1907Children and the Politics of SexualityChildren's RightsCity of CannibalsCity of HalvesClaiming Georgia TateClawsClay's WayConfessions of a Teenage Drama QueenConfessions of an Angry GirlContentious IssuesCoralineCountry Girl, City GirlCrispinCrossesCruise ControlCulture and Conflict in Child and Adolescent Mental HealthCut Both WaysDancing in My NuddypantsDani Bennoni: Long May He LiveDead Little Mean GirlDear Zoe,Define NormalDeliriumDeliverance From EvilDestination UnexpectedDirty Little SecretsDiscovering Pig MagicDivaDivergentDoing ItDown the Rabbit HoleDrawing a BlankDuck! Rabbit!Ellison the ElephantEmma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a TreeEmpress of the WorldEscape Under the Forever SkyEvery Exquisite ThingEvery Little Thing in the WorldEverything Is FineEverything on a WaffleFacelessFacts About ADHD ChildrenFade to BlackFade to BlueFaith, Hope, and Ivy JuneFaking NormalFans of the Impossible LifeFeather BoyFile Under: 13 Suspicious IncidentsFinallyFinding H. F.FiregirlFirst CrossingFlashcards of My LifeForbiddenForest of the PygmiesFoxFreak the MightyFreaky Green EyesFree?FreewillFrictionGeektasticGentlemenGeography ClubGeorgeGeorge's Marvelous MedicineGetting Over Garrett DelaneyGhost at the WindowGirl PartsGirls Acting CattyGirls in PantsGirlsourceGLBTQGoing BovineGood GirlsGoodbye RuneGossip GirlGotta Get Some Bish Bash BoshGranny Torrelli Makes SoupGutsHamletHandbook for BoysHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHarmlessHarry the Hypno-potamusHate ListHear Us Out!HeartbeatHeartbeatHeroHippie ChickHitler's DaughterHonor GirlHootHow to Build a HouseHumanism, What's That?Hurt Go HappyI Am Not Joey PigzaI Donít Want to be CrazyI Need You More Than I Love You and I Love You To BitsI Saw It HappenIf a Tree Falls at Lunch PeriodIf I StayIf We KissIn the Company of CraziesInvincibleIt Happened to NancyIt Was A Dark And Silly NightIt's Me!It's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalJacob's LadderJakarta MissingJake RileyJames and the Giant PeachJennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, ElizabethJoey Pigza Loses ControlJoey Pigza Swallowed the KeyJokerJumping Off SwingsJumping the ScratchKeeping the MoonKeeping Your Child in MindKids Gone WildKidYogi - Yoga for ChildrenKim: Empty InsideKiss of Broken GlassKissing in AmericaKissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys)Knocked Out by My Nunga-NungasLast CallLast DecemberLeaping BeautyLemony SnicketLess Than PerfectLet's Call It a DoomsdayLiarLittle ChicagoLizard LoveLizard RadioLizzy's Do's and Don'tsLock and KeyLooking for BobowiczLooking for NormalLord of the FliesLoserLosers BracketLove & Other CursesLove and SexLove That DogLove, AubreyLucy in the SkyLukeís Way of LookingMadappleMade For YouMaking the RunMaking the RunMany StonesMapsMargaux with an XMary Pope Osborne's Tales from the OdysseyMichael Rosen's Sad BookMirrorMaskMolly Moon's Incredible Book of HypnotismMonsterMore Than a LabelMore Than FriendsMore Than FriendsMouse's First ValentineMy Book about Brains, Change and DementiaMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy HeartbeatMy One Hundred AdventuresMy Perfect LifeNastybookNeighborhood GirlsNo Right TurnNot As Crazy As I SeemNothingNothing But the TruthNothing PinkNow Playing: Stoner & Spaz IIOCDanielOh My GothOlive My LoveOlive's OceanOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex GodOne Hot SecondOur Broken PiecesOut of BoundsOut of the DustPandemoniumPanic at Toad HallPaper TownsPaperweightPatrolPeachesPeriod PiecesPictures of Hollis WoodsPiggyPINSPlanet JanetPlanet PregnancyPlaying a PartPretty Girl-13Prince William, Maximilian Minsky & MePrincess in LovePrincess in the SpotlightPrisoner of Night and FogPrisoners Under GlassProject Sweet LifePsychotherapy with Adolescent Girls and Young WomenPuddlejumpersPunkzillaPurgeRainbow PartyRebuttalRequiemRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRevolting Rhymes & Dirty BeastsRosy Cole's Memoir ExplosionSabrielSaving GraceSay YesScatSchool of FearSee You at Harry'sSexuality in AdolescenceSexyShadows on the WallShatteredShelterShooterSide Effects May VarySilence is GoldfishSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSinlessSins of the FathersSix Impossible ThingsSkelligSmackSmall Avalanches and Other StoriesSolitaireSome Assembly RequiredSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful to YouSomeone Like YouSomething About AmericaSong for EloiseSophie Pitt-Turnbull Discovers AmericaSophie Spikey Has a Very Big ProblemSophomore SwitchSplit ScreenStartled by His Furry ShortsStone WaterStory of a GirlStuffSuffer the ChildrenSummer of the SkunksSurviving HitlerSweetheartsSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTargeting AutismTeaseTeen Angst? NaaahTeen TelevisionThat SummerThawThe 10 PM QuestionThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Actual Real Reality of Jennifer JamesThe Amnesia ClinicThe Arctic IncidentThe Artsy Smartsy ClubThe Bear MakersThe Beast of CretaceaThe BFGThe Big BurnThe Book of JudeThe Boy Who Climbed into the MoonThe Boy Who DaredThe Boyfriend ListThe Buffalo TreeThe Carnivorous CarnivalThe Case of the Case of Mistaken IdentityThe Cemetery BoysThe Chosen OneThe Clouds AboveThe Color of AbsenceThe Crazy Things Girls Do for LoveThe Dangerous Art of Blending InThe Darkest DarkThe Dating GameThe Day Leo Said I Hate You!The DaydreamerThe Diary of a Killer CatThe Diary of Pelly DThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Dream BearerThe Dulcimer Boy The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round ThingsThe EndThe End of Our StoryThe Ersatz ElevatorThe Eternity CubeThe Eyes of van GoghThe Flight of a DoveThe Future of UsThe Geography of GirlhoodThe Geography of You and MeThe Ghost NetworkThe GiantessThe Great BrainThe Grim GrottoThe Heretic's DaughterThe Hookup ArtistThe Horse and His BoyThe Hostile HospitalThe Last Chance TexacoThe Last Time I DiedThe Last Time We Say GoodbyeThe Little TernThe Love Curse of the RumbaughsThe Lucky PlaceThe Memory of LightThe Men They Will BecomeThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Mystery of the Third LucretiaThe Naked Truth About SexThe Neil Gaiman Audio CollectionThe Opposite of InvisibleThe Order of the Poison OakThe Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceThe Palace of LaughterThe PanopticonThe Penultimate PerilThe Porcupine of TruthThe PostcardThe Princess DiariesThe Rest of the StoryThe Rules of SurvivalThe Same Stuff as StarsThe Sands of TimeThe ScarThe Serious KissThe ShakeressThe Silent BoyThe Silly BookThe Sledding HillThe Slippery SlopeThe Snow SpeaksThe Spider and the BeeThe SpindlersThe StepsThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Tail of Emily WindsnapThe Teenage BrainThe Thief LordThe Thing About JellyfishThe Thought that CountsThe Treasure Map of BoysThe TwitsThe UninvitedThe View from SaturdayThe Vile VillageThe Virginity ClubThe Whiz Mob and the Grenadine KidThe WilloughbysThe Wish HouseThe Witch of Blackbird PondThe Witch's BoyThe Wolves in the WallsThe Wolves of AndoverThen Again, Maybe I Won'tThen He Ate My Boy EntrancersThey Broke the Law-You Be the JudgeThings I Have to Tell YouThirstyThirteen Reasons WhyThis Book Is Not Good For YouThis Burns My HeartThis Full HouseTime Stops for No MouseTransgender Children and YouthTrue BelieverTrue BelieverTruesightTurtles All the Way DownTwenty Boy SummerTwistedUnder Pressure and OverwhelmedUnder the Wolf, Under the DogUnder WildwoodVery Far Away from Anywhere ElseVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysWalking on GlassWastelandWatch Me Do YogaWe Are OkayWe're Not MonstersWelcome to the ArkWhale TalkWhat are you staring at?What Comes AfterWhat Does Consent Really Mean?What HappenedWhat I Saw And How I LiedWhat the Birds SeeWhat Works for Bipolar KidsWhat Would Joey Do?What's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhen Jeff Comes HomeWhen My Heart Joins the ThousandWhen Nothing Matters AnymoreWhen the Moon ComesWhen You Reach MeWhere She WentWhere The Kissing Never StopsWho Has What?Why Are You So Sad?WildwoodWill You, Won't You?Witch ChildWith Their EyesWolf on the FoldWonderlandWorlds ApartWurst Case ScenarioYogaYoga 4 TeensYou Hear MeYou Know Me WellYou Know You Love MeYou Look Different in Real LifeYour Body Is AwesomeZane's TraceZapZazoo
Lauren Oliver's Delerium tells of a future where love is treated as disease that has to be eliminated. It is Amor Deleria Nervosa, and at the age of 18 young people have a brain operation to stop them from ever falling in love. Once Lena has had her "cure," she will be paired with a young man in marriage. She has only a few months to go before she turns 18, and she is nervous about her evaluation before her cure. Much hangs on it, because her examiners will decide on her future, based on how she does. She has special reason to be nervous because of her mother, who committed suicide after 3 attempts at a cure, none of which worked. Her father died young too, so now Lena lives with her aunt and other family members. She is very bright and passionate, but she is short and ordinary-looking, and compared to her best friend Hannah, she feels unexceptional. Lena is shy, but Hannah is outspoken and critical. But it is Lena who starts to question everything she has been taught about life and society. They are told that in the old days, when there was love, chaos ruled, and divorce was rampant. Now divorce is very rare and society is far more stable. But it is a society without love or passion. It is also rigidly controlled: there is a large electrified fence around their city, Portlane, Maine, and there are just rumors about the groups of "invalids" who live outside.
The plot is standard fare for stories of young love in repressive regimes. Lena meets Alex, a young man who has apparently been cured, yet who seems to know more than he should, and who displays an unusual interest in her. There are adventures and narrow escapes; there are secrets unhidden, and there is beautiful and desperate love. The most interesting and original part of the novel is its central idea -- a society that makes love an illness. One might question whether it is plausible this could ever happen, but that is basically irrelevant: we rarely worry whether the futures portrayed in 1984, Blade Runner, or The Matrix are in fact likely to happen. The question is more whether the book is able to paint a convincing picture of how people would react when living in such a society, and whether the book is able to use the dystopian idea to make a strong point.
In Oliver's extraordinary first novel, Before I Fall, her teenage lead character was trapped in a Groundhog Day recurrence of tragedy, and she had to work out how to bring the repetition to an end. Delerium is a little less distinctive, and the characters are not quite as strong. Lena's relationship with Alex does not quite have the spark necessary to make it a great romance. Her relationship with her best friend Hannah is more sharply drawn, with less cliché. While Alex has a mysterious past and indeed a mysterious present, Lena knows all about Hannah and they have a long history together. They go running together, and it is on those runs where they talk with each other that Oliver's writing really shines. Lena does not really need to fall in love with Alex to know the loss that the "cure" will cause, because the intensity of her feelings for Hannah is strong enough to show her the power of love and to make her question everything she has been taught about love as a disease.
One quibble with the book is that there are some gaping holes in the plot. For an authoritarian regime, it is remarkably inefficient and lax in its security. As author, Oliver faced a dilemma whether to go into lots of detail about how Alex and Lena could manage to get past the security in some crucial plot moments, and she was right not to focus too much on that aspect, because it would be distracting. Nevertheless, too often one gets the sense that she is relying on the "with one bound, he was free" solution to problems she has created for her characters.
As a philosopher, I would have liked more focus on why it makes a good deal of sense to question our ideas of love and to deconstruct our ideology of romance. Her portrayal of romance makes it a universal good of human experience, always potentially available and only eliminated through the abuse of medicine. But we know perfectly well that very often love does make us stupid and blinds us from an objective assessment of other people. The reason that the idea behind Delerium is so rich is precisely that love is a kind of madness, bringing pain and risky behavior. The greatest dystopian stories are those where a strong case can be made for repressive treatment to avoid human folly, and Oliver doesn't give that case much weight. I'd have been even more thrilled if Oliver had included more about how the ideology of love is far from a human universal, but is mostly a Western idea of the last few hundred years, and is not easily translated to other cultures or ancient times. Unfortunately she didn't include those ideas in this book, but since it is projected as the first in a trilogy, there is still hope.
Oliver was a literature and philosophy major, and her ability to highlight philosophical ideas makes her novels stand out from the crowded field of YA literature. This was an enjoyable audiobook, performed by Sarah Drew, who also did Oliver's first audiobook. Drew is convincing as a teenage girl narrating her journey of discovery, and she has a good ability to distinguish the different characters.
© 2011 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York