Ask anyone who knows me even a little bit and they will tell you that I am a hopeless romantic. So when I heard of a book about a world where love is an illegal disease, I knew I had to check it out. I was at once horrified and enthralled by the future Lauren Oliver presents in Delirium. This novel is set in Portland, an area of the United States that has closed its borders to the outside world in order to prevent the spread of the deadliest of diseases: amor deliria nervosa—a.k.a love. At the age of eighteen, citizens are required to undergo “the cure”, a medical procedure that makes them unable to experience love.
Lena is a young woman on the verge of turning eighteen and cannot wait to be cured. She has lived her entire adolescent life fearing that she will follow in her mother’s footsteps and die from the deliria. Her fear of being infected controls her and keeps her in line. She strictly follows the city’s segregation laws and she never breaks curfew. That is until she meets Alex and her entire worldview is shattered.
What I love about Delirium is the way common themes like teenage rebellion and forbidden love are combined with something much darker. The government controls society through fear, propaganda, lies and intimidation. This future is an Orwellian nightmare where something so natural as the ability to love is forcefully taken away. And what is worse, the alterations made to the brain create a society numb to emotion, empathy, joy and guilt. Essentially any passion for life is lobotomized with the cure. They are brainwashed into believing that this numbness is happiness and that it is necessary for maintaining a peaceful society.
It is my opinion that these characters who ascribe to the government’s brainwashings are the real diseased ones. The fear of the deliria causes people to do horrifying things like bludgeon teenagers, kill house pets, torch houses, and drive people to suicide. Delirium is very much a story about a mass witch hunt. And the people of Portland just stand by and watch it all happen…
Interspersing tidbits of propaganda—bastardizations of religion, science and folklore that speak for the necessity of the cure—Oliver has created a very whole and believable futuristic world. It is this completeness that makes the love Lena experiences all the more powerful. The love between Lena and Alex is heart-wrenching and incredibly sweet. How could something so beautiful possibly be worthy of death? But perhaps the more frightening question is: how did the world we know today evolve into this fearful world of Delirium?
And don’t forget about the sequel, Pandemonium! Available March 6th!