Love is not a feeling. It’s not a simple emotion. Rather, it’s a disease called amor deliria nervosa. It’s not contagious, but you can be infected. When you are infected, everything breaks down. You stop eating. Sleeping. The world revolves around love. That’s why it’s so dangerous and sometimes, fatal. And that’s also why society decided that love needed to be stopped. It was outlawed and a few years after that, a cure was developed.
Now, at the age of 18, everyone is forced to have the procedure. You know by the mark on their neck whether they’ve had it or not. Once you’re one of the cured you will be matched by the government with your future mate. You will marry and have children and life will be orderly. Neat. Ideal. Not dangerous.
Lena understands this. She knows more about it than most people do. Her mother was unable to be cured. In fact Lena’s mother had the procedure three times before she finally ended up committing suicide. Lena understands that amor deliria nervosa is fatal. She’s lived with it all her life. Her sister was infected before she got the procedure. Now she’s married and has two children and she insists that life is good. Better even.
Lena’s ready. Her evaluation for graduation is approaching. She’s on a countdown of the days left before her procedure. And then her world narrows to a pinpoint moment in time when she meets Alex. Alex with the scar on his neck to prove that he’s been cured. Alex who seems safe, but is he?
I chose this book for our Radiant Lit YA reviews because a few months ago, I entered a store and found banners and posters practically blanketing the store for the ‘new release’ from Lauren Oliver. They were everywhere and on each poster there were quotes from prestigious book reviewers like the NY Times and Librarian organizations and the Wall Street Journal. I found thousands of reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and saw that this book is firmly on the influential list of YA reading these days.
The first thing I took note of as I started the book was the length. No simple, small read. Oliver’s book weighs in at nearly 500 pages. The cover art is gorgeous and draws you in immediately and the opening sentences set up a powerful tale – letting you know that it’s been sixty-four years since love was declared a disease and that Lena’s whole family has had the procedure to keep them disease free. Her procedure is 95 days away.
The writing in this book is exquisite. Descriptions dance lightly around your mind and tickle your senses. It’s nearly impossible not to imagine the world that Oliver has created. Rather than building from the ground up, she has chosen to make the setting something we all recognize – the modern day United States. She admits in the special features section of the new release that this was by choice to make it scary. And trust me, scary it is.
I was completely drawn into this story. This ended up being one of those books that I carried with me everywhere and read nearly constantly until I finished it. There’s not a ton of action. It’s not fast paced. There’s a lot of set up and maneuvering to get the characters where Oliver wants them. But that doesn’t draw away from the fact that this book is completely and utterly engaging. If you’re looking for The Hunger Games – you won’t find it here. If you’re looking for a longer, deeper, richer journey – you’ll find that here and more.
The book is labeled for 14-17 year olds. This is a major niggling point for me. By no means should this book be considered for readers that young. I personally wouldn’t hand it to a kid of less than 17. Probably closer to 18 would be a better fit. It’s also not tame. The overall tone of this book is dark. It’s heavy. It’s a frightening world. Lena doesn’t understand how scary it is because it’s what she’s always grown up with. For us, as readers, it’s scary. Regulators can stop you at any time to demand your ID. If you’re out of line, in the wrong place or even just looking wrong, you can be beaten or jailed. Raids on private homes happen regularly. You can be forced into the procedure – even early – if your actions or attitudes don’t line up with society’s rules. This was scary and had incredible emotions attached to it. Several scenes in the book were really frightening – regulators with dogs attacking and beating young teenagers who were out after curfew and a dog beaten nearly to death and left to die on the curb. There were also some scenes - though just a few – that led toward sexual things as well. Though the characters don’t have sex, we know they come close and we know how wonderful it feels.
There are moments of intensity. Intense drama. Intense craving. Intense action. For a character like Lena who has grown up with a numb society to experience these things for the first time can be overwhelming. They were overwhelming for me as a reader – I can’t imagine handing this book to my 13 year old – even though she’s quite mature and we talk pretty openly about everything. Still, it would be too intense or too much.
I enjoyed the journey. In fact, I knew halfway through that I was going to want the next book – and want it quickly. When I finished a few hours later I was left flailing – wondering what I could even try to read next that would come close. This book was amazing. The reading was a delight. The characters were rich with back story and realism. Lauren Oliver did an amazing job on creating this universe.
I’m now in waiting mode – hoping that Pandemonium comes soon so I can find out what happens next. In the meantime, if you love dystopian drama, this is a book you’ll enjoy – as long as you’re an adult and ready for all of the emotion it will bring with it.
Rated R: The whole tone of this book is heavy. It’s dark. It’s frightening. Some of the moments are absolutely overwhelming and are described in such a way leaving little room for the reader to disconnect. Great for a book – not so great if it’s targeted to 14-17 year olds.
Book provided by the publisher. Thank you!