Deliriumby: Lauren Oliver
IN THE OPENING CHAPTER of Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, 17-year-old Lena Haloway takes a mandatory state evaluation designed to determine what kind of wife she will be. Even though she has rehearsed her answers a million times, some impulsive, un-tameable part of her rises up as she faces the panel of government officials. “What is your favorite color?” they ask. In a moment of unbridled independence, she answers, “gray” and not the state approved color of “blue.”
Lena lives in Portland, Maine. She is a normal girl, mildly insecure but also stronger than she knows, not particularly pretty, but not un-pretty. An accomplished runner, she loves sleepovers with her best friend Hana and longs for the day when she can get married and settle down. In fact, there is probably nothing more defining about Lena than her own longing for and belief in normalcy. Normalcy is a big thing when you’re a teenager — either rejecting it or molding yourself into it.
But this is not Maine — or the United States — as we know it. Lauren Oliver’s trilogy, Delirium, Pandemonium and the forthcoming Requiem takes place in a nightmarish future. In Oliver’s prediction, Church, State and Science have fused into one fundamentalist institution. People have come to believe that love or, as they call it, amor deliria nervosa, is the root of all unhappiness and illness. Upon turning eighteen, the state requires citizens to submit to the aforementioned evaluation (so that they can be matched with suitable partners) and then undergo the procedure. The procedure is a painful operation on the brain that makes it impossible to fall in love. Post op, people might resemble empty robots, but they also have long marriages and stable, pain-free lives. Like all good fantasies about the future, it is easy to imagine how this world would evolve out of our own. Just try Googling “Dr. Walter Freeman — lobotomy — homophobia” to see how disturbingly close to reality Oliver’s imaginary procedure is.
When we meet Lena, only months before her procedure, she can’t wait to be cured. She is disgusted and frightened by the idea of love. She hates knowing she still has the “disease running though [her] blood”, making her feel “dirty.” A lot of Lena’s fears come from The Book of Safety, Health and Happiness Handbook. The Book of Shhh is a Bible slash code of law that everyone in Lena’s world has committed to memory. In a stroke of brilliance, The Book of Shhh actually shares stories with the Old Testament, but, unlike the Bible, which leaves room for interpretation, The Book of Shhh is a fundamentalist text. It makes sense that Lena believes everything she reads. The word is a powerful thing.
And honestly, even without the cautionary tales laid out in The Book of Shh, I can understand why Lena is afraid of love. Who isn’t? “Love is the deadliest of all deadly things it kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.” There is comfort in Lena’s protected, all-girl, pre-sexual existence. Her best friend Hana is gorgeous, but it never occurs to Lena to be jealous of Hana until a boy enters the picture. Desire changes everything.
The boy is Alex, and he mysteriously appears for the first time on the day of Lena’s government exam. As soon as they meet, he and Lena start circlin...read more