Author: Lauren Oliver
Source: ARC from NetGalley
Lena is lucky. She lives in a time when the worst disease that’s ever affected humanity, amor deliria nervosa, has been cured. The cure isn’t perfect; her own mother died of the disease after four attempts at a cure. And it can’t be administered to anyone under eighteen; it’s too dangerous. But she’s looking forward to her eighteenth birthday, when she can be cured and finally, finally be safe.
Then Lena meets Alex, and she learns to call the deliria by an older name: love.
I think the most chilling thing about this particular dystopia is how Oliver has thought out the affects of curing a society of love. There’s all the usual trappings; rigid rules, pitiless enforcers, rampant lies from the totalitarian government, terribly stratified society--and some that are particular twists, like arranged marriages and dictated reproduction.
But where the book really puts a rock in the pit of your stomach is when you realize that it’s not only romantic love that’s been “cured.” It’s any kind of love or indeed, any kind of strong emotion. Families are not families, they’re merely people living together until it’s time for the children to be cured and start their adult life. Deep friendships dissolve in the wake of the cure, both sides drifting away from each other. Sisters who were once close have to be reminded of each others’ existence. Art and music are curious pagan artifacts, unable to stir reactions from the cured. What’s been cured is not love, but all the things that make us human.
As in the best dystopias, Lena doesn't start the book out as a rebel. She's the most passionate advocate for the cure, mostly due to the circumstances of her mother's death. Living in a family that doesn't really want her, she longs for the safety of the time when she won't feel the loneliness or the uncertainty.
At the same time, her starving spirit is nourished by beauty and friendship, and though she tries to squash down her desire for both it comes out in unexpected ways. My favorite was right at the beginning. Asked her favorite color in verbal exams meant to dictate her future life, she answers "Grey" instead of the more cheerful colors. What she means is the grey right before dawn, the grey that means something beautiful and magical is about to happen. Through the course of the book, Lena comes to realize that losing her capacity to see this beauty and magic isn't worth the empty safety she will gain.
In her first book, Before I Fall, Oliver showed that she wasn’t afraid to write a sad ending when it’s the right one, and that’s the way it works out here. I can’t tell you exactly what happens, spoiler free zone! but I will say that while it made me tear up, it was right.