Book Review: Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

Yes, it’s another book for teenagers, and yes I am probably far too old to admit to reading it, but I will say this in    my defence, It is far better written than Hunger Games, which I also have to admit to also having read (and greatly enjoyed…)

Delirium is set in an alternate USA where love has been classified as a disease and all of the population is inoculated once they reach the age of 18 (any sooner and it can cause brain damage – something to do with the brain not being fully developed yet). I say inoculated, it appears to be more of a lobotomy which reduces pretty much any desire, affection, or joy in life.

Their society has all the required elements of an oppressive fascist society; neighbours (and other family members) are encouraged to inform on one another for any inappropriate behaviour which might indicate the disease; people are encouraged to give their loyalty to the state rather than their family, all working together to form a non sentimental and productive society. It’s a poor America we see, with most people lacking in the mod cons, electricity blackouts being common (the author may well be making the political statement that Socialism is bad, and we will miss the heady freedoms of Capitalism if they ever go, but maybe I’m giving this levels that just aren’t there). There’s Government censorship of just about everything (music, history, the internet) and of course, the biggie – relationships being controlled by the state. All marriages are arranged by the state. After completing an assessment of attitudes, intelligence (during which for some reason you have to be naked) at the age of 17 all girls and boys are put in matched pairs. If you are deemed intelligent enough you get to go to college first before having to get married. If not, it’s straight to a life of responsibility and duty. Same sex relationships are of course not allowed, being deemed to be a pure product of the illness and not fruitful for society.

Now I generally hate teenagers and books or TV shows about teenagers. But I do love books about fascist dictatorships, oppressive societies, and curtailment of civil liberties. They remind us why transparency and accountability of government is fundamental. They remind us why even in the face of terrorist threats and economic uncertainty, that free speech, peaceful protest, an independent judiciary, gender equality, and civil liberties (shhhh don’t call them human rights, people hate that) are so important. They make me ask myself what would I do, and how far would I go to stand up for the things I believe in (I would be some kind military genius, guerrilla warfare leader, inspiring normal people to take action and fight their oppressors, by the way. Obviously). Ok, it’s not subtle, but many teenagers might not have read 1984, Brave New World or Fahrenheit 451 and books like this say it is important to vote, it is important to speak up, it is important to campaign against injustice.

Oh and there’s a little bit of Footloose thrown in with dancing being banned (well any kind of co-ed gathering of teenagers, let alone those with music and TOUCHING are banned).

The question does remain however, as to why grown women like reading these teen books, the success of Hunger Games both in book and film form has of course been phenomenal (and yes, there may well also be men who enjoy these books, but my book club is all female so I can only really speak from my range of experiences). I have a theory, that there is a lack of compelling female characters in “grown up” books. I want to read about brave kick ass women who defy society and do things they never thought themselves capable of. And I don’t just mean in a Jodi Picoult kind of way, I mean in a way that shatters norms and changes the world. That’s what these books provide, engaging female central characters. Their youth is also a nice device to allow for their beliefs and behaviours to change dramatically in the course of the book as they rapidly mature into adulthood. These are the women I want to read about, not the likes of Anastasia Steele and her introduction to the world of S&M and throbbing members in 50 Shades (which I haven’t read so maybe my criticism is undeserved…but I doubt it).


I would definitely say that Delirium is worth a read, but if you can only read one book about an oppressive society and a government curtailing freedoms of the people this summer, then it should probably be Orwell’s 1984. Big Brother will always be watching you.


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