Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Harper, a division of HarperCollins; $17.99; 448 pages)
When we meet Lena, her final year of high school is ending and she has one last summer to spend with her best friend Hana before the demands of adulthood claim her. Like many almost-eighteen-year-olds, she sees cracks forming in her bond with Hana, and they worsen when she discovers that Hana has been listening to forbidden music and breaking curfew to sneak out to illegal dance parties.
Unlike many almost-eighteen-year-olds, Lena does not feel the need to have a last hurrah. In fact, she is counting down the days until she can embrace the life that the government will plan for her, right down to selecting the boy she will marry. Why? Because when she turns eighteen, she will undergo the cure for the affliction that took the life of her mother: amor deliria nervosa – in a word, love. And she can barely wait.
In the dystopian world of Portland, Maine, of the not-too-distant future, the government has determined that love is the root of all evil, and the remedy it has devised not only prevents its occurrence but also erases the memory of the fevered, distracting, roller-coaster emotions that plague those afflicted in their teen years. Lena, short for Magdalena, as in Mary Magdalene, is anxious to prove to the couple that raised her – and to Portland, in general – that she is not like her mother.
But, of course, then she meets Alex, and she realizes that she’s wrong. “If pneumonia felt this good,” she says, “I’d stand out in the snow in winter with bare feet and no coat on, or march into the hospital and kiss pneumonia patients.”
Delirium is a bit slow to get rolling, but readers who hang with Lena through her first “evaluation” for her “pairing” will be rewarded with a love story reminiscent, in some ways of Romeo and Juliet, as well as an exploration of other forms of love, and a nail-biting chase scene at its climax.
Delirium, by Lauren Oliver – whose debut novel, Before I Fall, was a New York Times bestseller – is the first book in a trilogy. So Shakespeare can rest assured that Lena will not by any other name become a Juliet. It will be interesting to see who she does become.
A review copy was received from the publisher. Delirium was released in hardcover form on February 1, 2011.