Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -the deliria- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.
But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love. –From Goodreads
I have read large portions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and I’ve studied the history of how diagnoses have changed. Even now, I receive email updates periodically about the work being done on the new DSM. I’m fascinated by the way disorders are added in, disorders are taken out, symptom lists are altered. Homosexuality used to be considered a mental illness; soon, Internet Addiction may be added in as a diagnosable disease. What ultimately makes something abnormal or pathological is subjective; it is based on societal expectations and norms agreed upon by the majority.
In Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, the world is much like ours, and the people much like us, except that amor deliria nervosa–love–is considered a mental illness. And they have a cure.
Lena is excited to receive the cure on her 18th birthday. She looks forward to the calm and normalcy it will bring to her life. Until she meets someone who changes everything. Lena begins questioning the rules of the society around her. She listens to unapproved music. Sneeks out after curfew. Disobeys her family. Falls in love. Inflicted with the illness, Lena has to decide between getting the cure and living a loveless life with her match, or leaving behind everything and everyone she knows to preserve her love.
Lauren Oliver’s dystopian world is so thoroughly fleshed out and frighteningly imaginable. The epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter–most of which feature quotes from scholarly works about the history of the cure–add rich and impressive detail to this work. The rest of the writing is just as gorgeous, and I was captivated from page one. The father along I got, the more my heart raced. I worried about Lena’s fate, and I had a feeling that no matter what direction the book took, I would end up horribly sad. Lena’s dilemma is lose-lose, and I wasn’t sure which option would make me cry more.
While I really enjoyed Oliver’s Before I Fall, this book tugged at my heartstrings on a whole new level. There were moments of Before I Fall where I felt the repetition dragging on a bit, but as I read Delirium, I didn’t want it to end. This is a pretty hefty sized book, but I would gladly have kept on reading. Ultimately, though, I knew this book ended in just the right place.
There will be plenty of comparisons between Delirium and Ally Condie’s Matched, as both feature dystopian societies in which couples are paired up by the government. I think that the focuses of the books and the writing styles are different enough that there is plenty of room for both of them. At their core, they do both question the choice between following your own heart versus government decree, but that is a dilemma featured in stories as far back as the Greek tragedies. That is the joy of questions without answers, you can keep on writing about them forever. Both Matched and Delirium are books that I loved and would gladly read again and again.
Quotable Quotes from Delirium
- “My heart is drumming in my chest so hard it aches, but it’s the good kind of ache, like the feeling you get on the first real day of autumn, when the air is crisp and the leaves are all flaring at the edges and the wind smells just vaguely of smoke – like the end and the beginning of something all at once.”
- “We stand there for a moment, looking at each other, and in that instant I feel our connection so strongly it’s as though it achieves physical existence, becomes a hand all around us, cupping us together, protecting us. This is what people are always talking about when they talk about god: this feeling, of being held and understood and protected. Feeling this way seems about as close to saying a prayer as you could get…”
- “The Book of Shhh also tells stories of those who died because of love lost or never found, which is what terrifies me the most. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it, and when you don’t.”
- “Of all the systems of the body—neurological, cognitive, special, sensory—the cardiological system is the most sensitive and easily disturbed. The role of society must be to shelter these systems from infection and decay, or else the future of the human race is at stake. Like a summer fruit that is protected from insect invasion, bruising, and rot by the whole mechanism of modern farming; so must we protect the heart.”
- “I’ll tell you another secret, this one for your own good. You may think the past has something to tell you. You may think that you should listen, should strain to make out its whispers, should bend over backward, stoop down low to hear its voice breathed up from the ground, from the dead places. You may think there’s something in it for you, something to understand or make sense of. But I know the truth: I know from the nights of Coldness. I know the past will drag you backward and down, have you snatching at whispers of wind and the gibberish of trees rubbing together, trying to decipher some code, trying to piece together what was broken. It’s hopeless. The past is nothing but a weight. It will build inside of you like a stone. Take it from me: If you hear the past speaking to you, feel it tugging at your back and running its fingers up your spine, the best thing to do—the only thing—is run.”
- “Segregation has it all wrong. We should be protected from the people who will leave us in the end, from all the people who will disappear or forget us.”
- “You have to understand. I am no one special. I am just a single girl. I am five feet two inches tall and I am in-between in every way. But I have a secret. You can build walls all the way to the sky and I will find a way to fly above them. You can try to pin me down with a hundred thousand arms, but I will find a way to resist. And there are many of us out there, more than you think. People who refuse to stop believing. People who refuse to come to earth. People who love in a world without walls, people who love into hate, into refusal, against hope, and without fear. I love you. Remember. They cannot take it.”