Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

19 May, 2012 Reviews 12 comments

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Delirium by Lauren OliverDelirium by Lauren Oliver
Series: Delirium #1
Published by HarperTeen on February 3rd 2011
Pages: 441
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

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 government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway 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.

I have said this before and I’ll say it again.  I have no problem with an implausible story vehicle.  As long as the ride is good and it relates a moral or philosophical value.

But where the line is drawn is when the world isn’t consistent and in the confines of that world, things don’t make sense.

That’s my limit.  That’s when I start getting frustrated and annoyed.  And it’s not because an author tried something new, okay?  Lauren Oliver is AMAZING.  She is a great author who is erudite and verbose and interesting to listen to.  I’ve seen her speak live and frankly to an audience and her ability to relate to them and express herself is fantastic.

But this novel still didn’t work for me. Delirium, unfortunately, failed for me.  Which is saddening, because Lauren Oliver is a good author and I know, with Delirium,  she was reaching out and trying something different.  I just wish it had been more successful.

Now, here’s where it all buggered up:

1. Inconsistent world building.

The main protagonist says the word “love” twice.  Once in conversation and the second time mentally.  Love is a concept that’s stigmatized to such an extreme degree that even the whispered word “sympathizer” is verboten.  Yet the main protagonist SAYS it to her aunt – that she LOVES children.  It just doesn’t make sense.  And she’s wandering around with Alex and making out with him in public like the consequence for that is a slap on the wrist.  Look, she lives in a highly autocratic world where even a hint of the disease will land you in prison – and she makes out with her boyfriend in the middle of public places.

2. Characterization.

I loved the characterization of Lena. I thought it was accurate and realistic.  It’s the characterization of Alex that left me hollow and empty.  He felt like a place-holder.  Simply a textbook demonstration of today’s YA expectations of a love interest.  Devoted, stalkerish, sad back story.  Oliver’s love interest in Before I Fall was so much more dynamic even though he comprised a relatively small part in the story.  Alex felt like a definition of desirable love interest instead of actually being a person Lena fell in love with.

3. Writing.

I never thought I’d say this because, in my mind, Oliver is – and always will be – a fantastic writer.  But there were aspects of the writing in this book that were obvious, cliche and simplistic.  For example, Lena is emotionally stunted but it’s an obvious parallel.  Whenever she feels intense emotion she blames it on the air conditioning or weather etc.  She is the result of a childhood of emotional detachment – but not really – and this is where it gets personal for me.

Because, if you don’t religiously read my reviews, then you wouldn’t know that my son was almost diagnosed with Attachment Disorder.  Because when my first son was born, I was one of those weird religious people that ascribed to books like Baby Wise, etc.  For the first six months of his life, he barely looked at me in the eye.  Attachment disorder babies are those that, from their infancy, do not experience consistent, loving care.  They are children that learn, early on, that they are not truly loved and this results in a wide swath of behavioral and emotional problems.

Lena is the result of a childhood that had a mother who loves her and responded accordingly to her needs, but other children in the society didn’t receive this – something that I felt was a huge cope-out.  What about the characterization of a person who wasn’t loved?  Who was a product of the system? I feel like this wasn’t examined enough – wasn’t inspected enough. Like it was handled by someone who just assumed that children would still reflect some modicum of normality after being raised in a world where they aren’t being lovingly raised by people properly attached to them.  And the assumption that you can have attachment without love – it’s mind boggling because I kind of feel like she was out of her depth on this one.

It’s not Oliver’s fault.  But what I wanted from this is a deeper understanding of society from the point of view of someone willing to delve into a harder, grittier, more realistic story. Someone willing to ask the tough questions and write the tough characterization.   Instead the novel glosses over a lot of those things and thus felt cheap and shallow.

Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy

Co-blogger at Cuddlebuggery
Kat Kennedy is a book reviewer and aspiring author in the Young Adult genre. She reviews critically but humorously and get super excited about great books. Find her on GoodReads.
Kat Kennedy

12 Responses to “Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver”

  1. Lady Jaye

    Hunh. That’s a very interesting statement about the Pentecostal Christian environment you exist in…. Wow. Sorry. That just blindsided me. I can’t see anything else but that now.

  2. Isabelle Doan

    You didn’t like it Kat? I’m done, and I loved it. Looks like we DID have differing opinions. But I can see your point. There were some inconsistencies.
    Isabelle Doan recently posted…New GiveawaysMy Profile

  3. Luan Pitsch

    I’m so sorry about your son and relieved, because it sounds like you were able to figure out what was wrong and correct it. What this world lacks with all its studies that flip flop their beliefs from year to year is what my grandpa used to say people needed. Common sense. Trust your common sense.

    Delirium. I thought it was fascinating and fun, although the main character annoyed me at first.

    And, as long as you’re reading older books (although not really old), let me suggest, “The Sky is Everywhere” by Jandy Nelson. I loved that book. I lamented that the title and cover art didn’t draw readership like it should because I LOVE that book.

    • Kat Kennedy

      @Luan Pitsch: There was definite fun stuff about Delirium. I just think a lot of it didn’t make sense for me. Thank you for the book rec!

  4. Rachel Hartman

    Kat, first things first: giant hugs and I’m so, so glad your son (and YOU!) are okay.

    Secondly: I totally agree about the emotional/attachment issues in this book. I think she bit off more than she knew how to chew. You can really tell when someone hasn’t been though that particular fire, because they just don’t know. “Before I Fall” was great for exactly that reason: she’d been through those emotions, she KNEW it, she earned it. I don’t know why someone who has that kind of wisdom to draw on would walk away from what she knows into what she clearly doesn’t. Well, or maybe I do: I like a challenge too.

    Thirdly: this is going to sound like sacrilege, but I have a similar problem with Harry Potter! He underwent so much neglect and outright abuse and yet he ends up being a fine, well-balanced human being anyway? I try to ignore it, but it still niggles. Have you read the Bartimaeus trilogy? I think of that as the anti-Potter in some ways: young talented magician is raised with similar neglect and abuse… and grows up to be an absolute DICK.
    Rachel Hartman recently posted…Done! (for now)My Profile

    • Kat Kennedy

      @Rachel Hartman: YES! I didn’t know how to phrase it – but I think you did. I think she didn’t really get how attachment affects babies – and what attachment is.

      Since I’ve seen the affects first hand, it was hard not to call bullshit. I remember her speaking about it and mentioning at the time that children grow up with their mother not loving them all the time etc. I thought she had an interesting point at the time – but I thought that was because she understood how damaging it was.

      And even if a child has an unloving mother – that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have love in its life. From father, brothers/sisters, grandparents. SOMEONE needs to take that role of loving provider or there are going to be serious mental health issues.

      Though I don’t mind that she chose to do something new and different. I applaud the effort. I just definitely think she bit off more than she could chew with this one.

  5. Rachel Hartman

    (Just to clarify: being neglected and abused doesn’t make people bad. I don’t mean that. But it doesn’t just have NO effect, and Harry ought to have needed some therapy, at the very least.)
    Rachel Hartman recently posted…Done! (for now)My Profile

  6. Heidi

    This was the review I’ve been looking for of Delirium! Because I’ve enjoyed Lauren Oliver’s other books so much, and found her fantastic, I was flummoxed by the reality that I didn’t really want to read Delirium. I’ve been feeling book guilt, like I should read it anyway because I must like it, right? But you’ve hit the nail on the head for me. I’m certain I would get hung up on the same things, and am glad to know that you didn’t enjoy this, even though you enjoy her.
    Heidi recently posted…Review: The Prince Who Fell From the Sky by John Claude BemisMy Profile

  7. Book Review: Delirium

    […] secret and haunted by a sad past? Check. Slightly stalkerish? Unfortunately, check. I really think Kat Kennedy said it best, “Alex felt like a def­i­n­i­tion of desir­able love inter­est instead of […]

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