Imagine a world without emotion. Friendships are casual, spouses are paired and relationships never grow beyond being a necessary part of life. Nobody feels, and as a result, nobody gets hurt. No happiness, sadness, longing or loss exists.
Love is forbidden; it is a disease that must be annihilated. Love is the deadliest of all things.
In Lauren Oliver's "Delirium," readers are brought into such a world through the eyes of Lena, a 17-year-old girl who is receiving the cure for "the deliria," or love, on her 18th birthday. We are exposed to the communist-like government, and all the restrictions it places on those who are not cured to keep them from catching the "disease."
The government controls what people think, feel and say by monitoring curfews, screening phone calls and drawing borders between society and "The Wilds," where the uncured hide in secret. Children are taught in schools that the cure is the answer to all the anxiety and stress they feel; afterwards, life will be completely different for them. No more traces of pain or ties to the past will exist.
The "cure" is only the final step of the ongoing process of government control in their lives. An examination, which Lena experiences at the beginning of the book, is given to establish a person's place in society, their education and who they will marry.
All abstract thoughts and imagination are shunned in school; these are the first steps to delirium. Uncured boys and girls rarely speak to one another as this is considered dangerous.
Lena never questions this strict, confined life. She considers the borders to be protection from hurt, for she lost her mom to the disease at a very young age. She looks forward to the day she receives the cure, for she will not have to worry about these feelings ever again. Lena plans on spending her last summer as an uncured with her best friend, Hana, running through the woods and enjoying the final few months of their friendship.
However, her world flips upside down when she meets Alex, a security guard and college student who is an "Invalid," which means he hasn't had the cure. Uncured boys and girls are forbidden from seeing one another, but Alex bears the mark of the cured. Through him, she finds secrets about the world that she never would have imagined. She discovers that this so-called "utopia" where she lives isn't as peaceful as it seems.
Lena struggles between the life she has always accepted as tranquil and safe and a new life with passion and excitement exposed to her by Alex. Lena's definition of happiness begins to change as she meets Alex more often.
He encourages her to stretch the limits and go beyond the borders. But the farther Lena proceeds on this dangerous path with Alex, the more at risk she becomes of catching delirium. And once you are labeled as a "sympathizer," there is no turning back.
"Delirium" is a compelling novel that keeps readers on their toes until the very last page. The book is insightful, questioning the function of emotions in human lives. The characters grow beyond all that we believe they are capable of, and while reading this book, I learned to expect the unexpected.
Through Lena, we are exposed to two distinct definitions of happiness: with or without pain. As stated on the novel's first page, "The most dangerous sicknesses are those that make us believe we are well."