Delirium by Lauren Oliver: compelling, shocking, and utterly captivating

Today is review day! 2 weeks ago I was in Alabama for a wedding and my friend happened to bring what she called a “beach read” with her. I was bored, I like books, so I borrowed it. 24 hours later I’d devoured its 400+ pages and was craving more. During the past year, I’d been consistently disappointed by novels I’d read staring a female protagonist so I didn’t have high hopes for this novel. It was a beach read after all. However, this book was a pleasant surprise and reminded me of why the world needs more literary heroines.

Delirium Book Cover

Picture from

Book: Delirium

Author: Lauren Oliver

I generally don’t like modern day love stories, but Delirium by Lauren Oliver is not a typical romance like Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey. The skill with which Oliver paints her world brings it just close enough to reality for it to be mildly disturbing, but it is still far enough away to be immensely entertaining. The world in Delirium is set in a potential future where love is considered a contagious disease and at the age of 18, all citizens are required to get “the cure”. The main character, Lena, cannot wait to be cured. In fact, she is counting down the days until she is rid of her ability to love so that she can join the ranks of peaceful,  cured people of the world. But how often do things in books ever go according to plan? Oliver tells Lena’s story with the language skills of a master wordsmith, uses well-developed and believable characters, and makes her audience really consider the consequences of losing all ability to love.

One of the things that makes the world of Delirium so believable is the diversity of language Oliver uses. The voice of Lena is very strong and fits her situation well; but aside from the language the characters use, Oliver includes invented excerpts from various sources within the Delirium reality. The Book of Shhh is the government issued book that reports the dangers of the deliria (love). Its official language and technical speech brings a sense of authenticity to the story. Sections of the Bible, historical books, and medical reports are all included in these intriguing chapter starters. The government has obviously warped religious beliefs and philosophical teachings to fit its needs. To me, that is entirely believable because, according to the more sane conspiracy theorists, that happens in the real world today.

Another aspect of her writing that makes this world so darned believable is her medical babble. In her novel, excerpts from various medical pamphlets which talk about all the dangerous side-effects of the delirium are referenced. Sweaty palms, irrational behavior, tendency to lie, and accelerated heart rate are all filed under symptoms of this disease. Interestingly enough, her phrasing of this sounds like something right out of a medical text book. I’m sure that if Dr. House were to write his own anthology of human biology, love would indeed be classified under “Deadly Diseases” using Oliver’s exact phrasing.  Oliver’s words aren’t her only strong point in this novel, though; her ability to write believable characters is another way she ensnares her audience.

Lena is unlike any female heroine that I’ve read recently. One of the reasons I like her so much is because she is not completely obsessed with a boy. Lena has concerns in her life other than romance. She is deeply attached to her best friend, Hana, who appears to be a bit of a rebellious rule breaker right from the beginning. Lena is written as rather innocent, but not in a way that makes you feel sorry for her or think she couldn’t handle herself in a fight. Her history and the struggles she’s had to go through give her a solid backbone and some claws to fight with. Despite her challenging past, she isn’t broody and tormented by her past. True, she’s parentless, but that doesn’t make her meek or pathetic. There is strength in her character and as the story progresses she becomes someone that little girls who might read this story can look up to .

Hana, Lena’s best friend, is also complex and intriguing. Sadly, a lot of her character is left unrevealed in Delirium, mostly because it’s Lena’s story. Thankfully, Lauren Oliver has foreseen our curiosity and has provided us with a novel that revolves completely around Hana. The book is cleverly called Hana. I haven’t read this one, but assuming that Delirium wasn’t a literary talent fluke, Hana should be just as thought-provoking and entertaining as Oliver’s other novels. I think that Hana is an exceptionally realistic character because she is just as emotional  as any teenager without being overly moody. In the first few chapters, Hana seems to trick you into thinking that she is going to fit into some stereotypical revolutionist role when she says her nearly heretical line “You can’t be happy unless you’re unhappy sometimes”. It shocks Lena as much as the rest of us. How can a 17 year old kid have so much wisdom when she’s been deprived of such influences? She read it somewhere online, of course. Just because she turns out to be a bit of a rebellious teenager instead of a revolutionist doesn’t make her less interesting. In fact, it makes her more realistic. Hana is a part of the system. A dysfunctional part of the system, but a part of it all the same. She is sassy, witty, and just a little emotional, and a perfect Number 1 to Lena’s Captain Kirk.

Lastly, and probably my favorite reason for why this book is so captivating is that it focuses on something more than romantic love. Oliver realizes that the love between friends and siblings is equally as important as romantic love. Lena sees that her friendship with Hana is going to change drastically when she gets the cure.  What she doesn’t realize is just how much this is going to affect her life. She loves Hana, but soon that will all go away. The loss of love coming from her sister stings Lena too. The two of them used to confide in and rely on each other. They went through the same struggles when they were children after they lost their mother, but now Lena is alone. Rachel, her sister, was cured after she was infected by some boy she met. According to Lena, Rachel only comes over to visit her out of obligation now and has little tolerance for her childish nonsense. When Oliver writes Rachel, you can see the uncaring in her eyes. You can hear the monotone of her voice. It’s passionless and horrifying. To me, she felt like a zombie… or maybe a husky. I can never tell what those dogs are feeling. The reality of a world without love is deeply disturbing the way that Oliver portrays it. We lose more than just that fluttery feeling when you have a crush. We also sever the true bonds that hold families and friends together. She shows us that  without love, people simply become convenient and optional.

I really have no complaints about Delirium. Well, I have one complaint, but it’s not really a complaint. I hate the ending. It was brilliant, moving, and thought provoking; however, the final lines made me want to chuck the book into a deep, dark hole where I never have to think about it again.  Violence against a book I’ve just finished is always a sign that I thought it was exceptional.

Happy Reading!



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