Monday, March 5, 2012
A World Without Pain... Or Love
A world without pain can't be bad, right? But if you don't feel any pain, grief, or loss, how can you truly understand love, passion, or desire? In Lauren Oliver's new trilogy, Delirium, you become a witness to a world where a mandatory surgery "fixes" people to prevent them from contracting a dreaded disease: love.
Lena (short for Magdalena) was named for the first woman to ever be cured of love, mary Magdalene. She suffered all her life because of love and started the movement that create a society free of the disease that will cause you to act impulsively, make you crazy, and will undoubtedly end in death if you contract it. Lena's surgery is only a few short months away, but she is desperate for the big day to be here so she doesn't have to live in fear of the dreaded disease. When she goes for her evaluation, something goes horribly awry and the Invalids (people who aren't cured and live outside the protected communities) or their sympathizers stage a demonstration that sends cows through the evaluation building and ends her interview. Since she found herself answering the questions in a way that would surely cause her to fail, she is almost grateful for the interruption. She saw a boy during the cow stampede and now she can't stop thinking about him. Hopefully she hasn't already caught the disease...
Lena's friend Hana has been toying with the boundaries of what is allowed and what will get you branded a sympathizer. Lena tries to get her friend to stop this dangerous behavior, but still she feels compelled to follow her to a party at an abandoned farm. There Lena experiences more emotion and overwhelming stimulation than she has ever experienced, and she flees almost as soon as she gets there. On her way out, she bumps into the same boy from the evaluation, Alex. As the days pass, she keeps bumping into Alex until she starts spending time with him. After all, he is cured, so it is both legal and safe for her to spend time with him. But when Alex admits to her that he isn't cured and is actually an Invalid, Lena can't believe her ears. She can't ignore her heart, either, and finds herself drawn to Alex and happily suffering from the very disease she was so afraid of just a few short weeks ago. What she doesn't expect is how quick her surgery date is approaching and how far everyone will go to "cure" her of the best feeling she has every experienced in her life: love. But is love enough to keep Lena and Alex together?
In the wide world of dystopias, there are the soft dystopian worlds like in Matched or The Giver where you can see how the world went to hell on a road paved with good intentions. Then there are the hard dystopias like Birthmarked and Forest of Hands and Teeth where the world was corrupted by greed and power. This world is more like the first category, giving the world an almost acceptable premise, but we still realize how it has been twisted and warped to create a society that has taken the protection of its citizens too far. You read the book and can't imagine how the people don't see where everything went wrong, but then you think about everything people get used to and can see how people would hold onto this broken world so fiercely- it is all they know. The idea of cutting out love is so hard to imagine, but what about the elimination of pain or grief. To anyone who has lost a loved one or watched a great love end, it doesn't sound like a bad option, does it?!
That is the beauty of this book. The discussion possibilities are simply endless. I went to the reading Lauren Oliver did at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck this weekend and was absolutely in love with her! She was a really normal, cool lady with lots to talk about, in particular, just how hard it is to write a book! I wish my students had more opportunities to meet the authors of the books they love because it is an experience that nothing can compare to. I would recommend this book for a wide range of students from strong middle readers through to young adults. It is a good clean, not-too-harsh dystopia that will be great for any fan of The Giver. The sequel is out and I have it staring at me right now, but I am going to wait a little while to read it. I want all the ideas from Delirium to ruminate and not be clouded by the second book! And if you get a chance to see Lauren Oliver, make sure you do! She is a cool, cool lady who will reinforce your love of her books (not that you need anything but the books themselves, but it can't hurt!).