Review 5 – Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Delirium
  • Author: Lauren Oliver
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Year Published: 2011
  • Setting: Dystopian Portland, Maine
  • Point of View (POV): First person narrator
  • Themes: Love, Family, Corrupt Government, Secrets, Rebellion
  • My Rating: 5/10
  • Favourite Quotes:
    • “(Love is) the deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t” (Oliver 4).
    • “Don’t be an idiot. If it was on the news, it definitely isn’t true” (Oliver 48).
    • This is what people are always talking about when they talk about God: this feeling, of being held and understood and protected. Feeling this way seems about as close to saying a prayer as you could get” (Oliver 352).


Delirium is a young adult dystopian novel about a society that has determined “amor deliria nervosa” – otherwise known to us as love – to be a disease that must be cured (Oliver 3). When each citizen turns eighteen they must be administered the cure, which turns them into emotionally-detached human beings. They are then matched with a life partner, which is determined by similar levels of intelligence, wealth, biological compatibility, etc. They are assigned a career and even the number of children they must have. Then the citizens of this dystopian Portland go on with their lives knowing, but not really caring, about the people around them. The protagonist, Lena, is almost eighteen and initially cannot wait for her procedure. That all changes when she meets Alex, an uncured boy from the Wilds, the unknown forest outside of the city. With Alex’s help, she begins to see that love can actually be really amazing, and that even though she can feel the ‘symptoms’ of love – “the disorientation, the distraction, the difficulty focusing” – it feels so good that she doesn’t care (Oliver 237).

When Lena decides that she cannot go through with the procedure and that she has to escape Portland in order to escape the cure, the peak of the novel’s conflict begins. She decides to run away with Alex into the Wilds and live with the other “Invalids” who are out there, uncured and in love (Oliver 163). What ultimately convinces Lena that she has no choice but to leave Portland is that she and Alex discover new information about her mother. For her entire life, Lena has thought that her mother committed suicide when she was six, because even after three failed administrations of the cure, she was still infected with the deliria, leading to depression and hopelessness. The couple discover that she is actually alive and quite possibly living out in the Wilds. Lena is determined to escape with Alex and reunite with her mother, but it isn’t easy to escape Portland’s government undetected.

For the most part, I was not emotionally invested in this book, for I found a lot of Lena and Alex’s relationship to be very cringe-worthy. With sentences that have Lena comparing Alex’s eyes to maple syrup over a stack of pancakes, and how she only truly believes that she’s beautiful when Alex tells her so, their relationship makes me gag more often than it makes me swoon. It just wasn’t believable enough or real enough for me to allow myself to completely buy in to it. Despite this, I was still upset about the way the novel ended. Lena and Alex are racing out of the city to the Wilds and their lives are at stake; all they need to do is make it over the fence. They have guards and police officers shooting at them as they race for the border, but the couple still succeed in making it to the fence and all they have to do is climb over. Lena drops to the ground on the other side and turns around to see “Alex is still standing on the other side of the fence . . . he hasn’t moved a single inch . . . hasn’t tried to,” and he sacrifices himself to the officers to allow Lena to escape, even though it seems clear to the reader that he could have also made it over the fence (Oliver 439). I was upset for Lena that after everything they went through, it seems that they won’t get to be together and that the cure will likely be forcefully administered upon Alex. Of course, anything could happen in the sequel, but for this first novel in the trilogy, it seems that Lena is now on her own. In a book that had been so predictable, in which pretty much everything was working out the way that the two main characters wanted it to, I did not expect such an unfortunate ending.

Lauren Oliver’s writing style is often quite lyrical, with a lot of imagery and metaphors. Sometimes this really worked for me, as can be seen in the quotes from this book that I chose as my favourites. Other times, as I’ve already discussed, it didn’t work for me at all. Unfortunately, I frequently found the similes to be cliché and overdone. The pacing, however, was excellent, and seamlessly balanced action with moments of calm. Each chapter begins with an epigraph that provides further insight into the world of Delirium. The epigraphs range from quotations from “The Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook, or The Book of Shhh,” – the handbook that all citizens must read and follow – to nursery rhymes, giving readers further information without creating information dumps (Oliver 3). Oliver is a talented writer, but I feel that she needs to be edited a bit more to eliminate clichés and reduce descriptions that are too flowery.

As a young adult novel, Delirium follows Bean & Moni’s diagnosis that this genre discusses “societal conflicts and dilemmas” through “the unique point of view offered by an adolescent main character” (638). Had this novel been told from the perspective of any other character, especially a cured, adult character, it would not have told the same story. By telling Lena’s story through first-person narration and because her procedure is so imminent, it provides a very interesting, different narrative and a relatable protagonist (particularly for teenagers who are falling in love for the first time). Delirium is also a dystopian novel, and this genre has the “capacity to frighten and warn . . . engag[ing] with pressing global concerns: liberty and self-determination, environmental destruction and looming catastrophe, questions of identity, and the increasingly fragile boundaries between technology and the self” (Basu et al. 1). In particular, Oliver’s novel is a warning that reminds readers of the consequences of allowing the government to gain so much control that it compromises the people’s own bodily integrity. The citizens within the novel are not in control of what is done to their bodies and brains, for they have no choice but to take the cure for love. As teenagers, the characters see how the adults’ emotions are relatively non-existent after receiving the cure and they see how much of their personalities are going to be sacrificed, and yet there is nothing they can do to prevent it from happening to them. “Another major theme in YA dystopias is conformity, which is often exaggerated for dramatic effect,” and this is evidenced by how willing the teenagers are to go through with the procedure despite the radical change they know will happen to them (Basu et al. 3).

I would not recommend this novel to most readers besides young, love-obsessed teenagers. This is actually a re-read for me, since I read the novel when it was first published in 2011, when I was sixteen. Even then, I disliked it just as much as I do now, for the exact same reasons. I hoped that when I read it for the second time around I might enjoy it more, but I did not, and for these reasons I had to give it a 5 out of 10. Due to my strong dislike of Lena and the disbelief I had throughout the novel about Lena and Alex’s relationship, I was unable to enjoy Delirium, despite its intriguing premise and unique dystopian world.






Works Cited

Bean, Thomas W., and Karen Moni. “Developing Students’ Critical Literacy: Exploring Identity Construction in Young Adult Fiction.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 46, no. 8, 2003, pp. 638-648.

Basu, Balaka, et al. Introduction. Contemporary Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults: Brave New Teenagers, by Basu et al, Routledge, 2015, pp. 1-15.

Hill, Beth. “Checklist for Editors.” The Editor’s Blog, 19 Aug. 2015, E.A. Hill, Accessed 3 Sept. 2016.

Oliver, Lauren. Delirium. HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.


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