Thursday, June 27, 2013

Having Contracted A Significant Case of Amor Deliria Nervosa

Book 1
By Lauren Oliver

Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

They say that the cure for Love will make me happy and safe forever.

And I've always believed them.

Until now.

Now everything has changed.

Now, I'd rather be infected with love for the tiniest sliver of a second
than live a hundred years smothered by a lie.

Lena looks forward to receiving the government-mandated cure that prevents the delirium of love and leads to a safe, predictable, and happy life, until ninety-five days before her eighteenth birthday and her treatment, when she falls in love.

I don't really know what I thought going into this. I guess I knew it was pretty popular, and it was about a society where love was 'cured' and that the main character was bound to rise up and fight the system, but I didn't really have any other expectations. And I think that perhaps that was best.

Lena, our main character and narrator, is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to YA heroines these days. Starting off, she's the typical ho-hum, average-looks, bookish-but-not-nerdy, orphaned, straight-laced, late-teenaged girl. Knowing our YA tropes (and having read the book jacket), we know she's going to undergo some radical change in the story and fight the system, but I was actually pretty surprised and impressed with how much time and effort was put into her character pre-shift. Getting to know just how indoctrinated Lena, and by extension the society as a whole, was into this 'Love Is A Disease, Government Knows Best' mentality was not only integral to the storyline but also getting us invested in her as a person pre- and post-shift.

But enough about Lena as a main character, what about Lena as a person? She's generally kind, studious, and straight-laced, as I said before. Most of her life has been dominated by her mother's death and trying to distance herself from it. Others see her as predisposed to infection by amor deliria nervosa, see it as running in the family, using her mother's suicide as an example of how the love disease can kill. This has both terrified and strengthened Lena to the point where she is both self-deprecating/self-conscious but also thick-skinned against others' opinions. This leads her to seek out the truth, even it means breaking the rules or facing the judgement of others.

One of the most endearing traits that got me hooked to Lena was her distaste towards children. I know, I know, I'm a horrible person, and so is she. But really, it's not that she is cruel to kids, or that she hates them outright, she just doesn't find them easy to connect with and so would much rather avoid them. Now, you could go all psychologist on this and say that it stems to her troubled memories of her mother, or being bullied by other kids after her mother's death, but personally I saw it as an interesting (and completely believable) aspect for a female teen romance character to have.

Hana, Lena's best friend and confidant, was also a great hook for me. While most of the YA I've read has the main character's BFF either fighting them on the change or playing a supportive but greatly lesser role, Hana actually spurred Lena's shift in thought. Even through their fights and disagreements, their feelings toward each other don't change. It's refreshing to not see a 10(+)-year friendship suddenly blow up just because of one fight. I can only hope to see more Hana-like characters make appearances in other books.

Which brings us to the only other important character, the main love interest, Alex. I'm always drawn to a sense of humor, so Alex was instantly appealing as a romantic interest. But even with the humor, he always felt mature and laden with responsibility. Perhaps the fact that he was older helped portray his maturity, but as the seriousness of things started ramping up, it was nice to feel like he wasn't just some love-sick kid doing things off the top of his head. Even as the romance got pretty lovey-dovey, you still got the sense that he'd thought things through and had escape plans ready. Yes, he was in love, but he was still rational about the situation they were in.

As far as romance goes, this book had a lot more than I expected. There's no sex (it's still YA after all), but there is a lot of pining, yearning, kissing, and general angst. You hear about this dystopian society where love is illegal and you know there's bound to be some love, but also a rebellion. Well in the battle of Romance vs Dystopian, I'd say book one of the Delirium trilogy definitely fell on the side of Romance. Not that the world is underdeveloped in terms of the dystopian society, but the plot is focused on Lena and her discovery that Love isn't bad moreso than overthrowing the love-destroying government. And considering we're dealing with only book one, I'd say that's not a bad thing, just something to take into consideration if you're not a fan of romance novels.

In terms of the world-building, I was completely hooked. In case you didn't know, Love is seen as a disease (amor deliria nervosa) which causes anxiety, heart palpitations, violence, suicide, and all kinds of other problems. So the US government has created and mandated a cure, much like the chicken pox vaccine, which must be administered ASAP after you turn 18. Because everyone post-cure is so placated, there's no competition, no drive for advancement, so marriages, jobs, and general happiness are assigned by the government as well. Essentially, without love there is no hate, no ambition, no conflict, no fear of abandonment, no pain. Sounds like Utopia, right?

I'll admit I was continually thrown every time they mentioned living in Portland (Maine) and visiting the beach, as I live in Portland, Oregon and it is not by the ocean. But besides that little personal twitch, I could not get enough of the functionality, the history, and even the politics of this society. The rationalization of destroying love was so well crafted that it was terrifying to find myself agreeing with some of it. Having the world be so similar to our own only made it that much more chilling to envision.

But my favorite glimpses of the world came from each of the chapter starts. Before the start of each chapter Oliver included an 'excerpt' from a reference book, pamphlet, or the Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook (Book of Shhh) about something concerning amor deliria nervosa or its cure. Most fascinating for me were the re-writings of biblical passages like this one of Genesis:
The devil stole into the Garden of Eden. He carried with him the disease —amor deliria nervosa— in the form of a seed. It grew and flowered into a magnificent apple tree, which bore apples as bright as blood.
—From Genesis: A Complete History of the World and the Known Universe, by Steven Horace, PhD, Harvard University [pg 24]
It was not only informative but also a little chilling to read all the propagandized writings that were created to serve this new government's needs. Really drove the point home about how much they were about complete control.

Which brings me to my main question about the world... Why did they even bother imprisoning criminals/rebels? I understand allowing the insane or minor miscreants to serve time as a warning, but why keep the 'lifers' alive at all? It seemed kinda stupid to me in terms of a dystopian government and really nothing more than a plot contrivance. Don't worry if you/your love is captured because they'll just be thrown in jail. As of the end of this book, I really don't see any logic behind holding rebels in jail as opposed to silent executions. Perhaps it will be explored further in the sequels.

As the start of a series, Delirium did exactly what it was supposed to. It introduced the setting, the rules, the conflict, the goal, and gave us characters we can root for. That being said, I wouldn't say it's quite fleshed out enough to be a stand-alone novel. There are many hints at events or plot points in future books, a few too many loose ends, and a major cliffhanger that would only satisfy a fan of Shakespeare. So if you think you're going to enjoy this book, you'd best have Pandemonium and Requiem handy upon completion.

Overall, Delirium presented a fascinating but chilling look into a world where Love is not only a disease, but a crime. I'd highly recommend it to fans of romance or dystopian YA, or those who are looking for a good starting place for either genre and like well-developed heroines. There is some language (including the F-bomb), clean teen romance, and some violence involving police raids, so on the whole I'd recommend this for high school and older. I don't know where or when Love will find me, but after reading this book I'm just grateful that it's still out there to find. So if you're looking for a new book to love, definitely give Delirium a try.

Approximate Reading Time: 5.5 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Sarah Drew
Length: 11.7 Hours
Listened at 2.2x Speed

What struck me the most about this narrator was how much emotion she put behind Lena and the story in general. You figure it's a love story set in first person, so obviously you have to have emotion in reading it, but trust me that isn't always the case. Through the good times and the bad, this narrator commanded the proper tone at all times, delivering a memorable experience throughout.

While Lena and her narrative were always spot on, I will admit that there wasn't too much variety in the other characters. Even the fairly important ones like Hana and Alex were just slight deviations, leaving very little room for the lesser characters. Nevertheless, all dialog tags were left as-is, so I was never confused with who was speaking.

If I had one major complaint about the audiobook it would be the ending. I've known some audiobook recordings to insert music every now and again, at chapter breaks, at disc breaks, etc. This production had no music at all during the reading until the very end. During the epic climactic scene, probably the last couple pages of the book, music suddenly starts playing under the narrative. Now, in some cases this might enhance the scene, give it one last push through to the end. This, however, was neither the right time, nor the right music. First off, it's the end of Book 1 of a trilogy. The book may be over, but it's a cliffhanger ending, so this isn't the time for an epic finale to start playing. Secondly, the music sounded like a 90's boy band cover, all happy and peppy, right in the middle of a dramatic cliffhanger ending! What were they thinking?!?!

So, in short, I'd definitely check out the audiobook if you've got the chance. I can't envision Lena sounding any different. But don't be too surprised when the cheesy music starts up at the end of the book. Who knows, maybe they were trying to lighten the blow? Still, overall a great recording.