When do you trust the wisdom of those you love, and when do you need to experience and decide for yourself? This is the dilemma that Lena Haloway faces in Lauren Oliver’s novel, Delirium.
In dystopian Maine, love is a disease and each member of the community is “cured” by having their emotions surgically removed when they turn 18. With only three months left before her procedure, Lena finds herself infected and begins to question the lessons she has been taught since childhood. Oliver masterfully addresses the adherence and guilt, the oscillation of advancing and retreating, and finally the commitment to action that occurs when deciding between what one feels and what one is taught to feel.
At the beginning of Delirium, the community’s teachings have become manifest in Lena and she can physically “feel [the disease] writhing in [her] veins like something spoiled.” Before her beliefs are challenged, she takes them as truth, as fact, without examining what could be valid or desirable in the alternative. When Lena considers there might be something worthwhile in breaking the strict laws of her community, she immediately feels guilt. Specifically Lena feels like she is betraying her Aunt Carol by straying from her aunt’s teachings. How could she do this to her Carol after her she raised Lena, saved her from the dismal future relegated to orphans? Lena believes she owes Carol her obedience, more than Lena has any obligation to herself to live her own life and make her own choices.
Lena begins to look for signs (“I decide to stop stressing and leave it to luck, or fate... I feel a million times better.”) so that she does not have to bear the burden of decision. When she slips further into her feelings for Alex, she panics. What if these feelings only feel right, but really are sinful and shameful? How can I know I’m thinking clearly enough to make the right decision? “The most dangerous sicknesses are those that make us believe we are well.” None of us makes decisions in a vacuum. How can we distinguish when we are following the herd because we are blind and in denial and when do we follow the herd because after thoughtful self-assessment this is the right choice for us?
While I won’t spoil Lena’s choice- or the inevitable consequences (because that’s the thing, folks, there are ALWAYS consequences and you’ve got to be careful jumping off a cliff when you don’t know how deep the water is), I will reveal that this book left me emotionally drained and completely satisfied. This is one of those rare books where the pain is as beautiful as the joy, where the writing weaves such intricate and descriptive similes and metaphors I can tie all of the emotions the writer wants me to feel to moments of my own life.
Although marketed as a YA novel, Delirium presented a lot of adult questions: Is the potential for happiness worth the risk for unhappiness? Who decides what is wrong or right, and why? Whom am I ultimately trying to make happy?
I welcome your feedback! Have you read Delirium and the rest of the series? Do you think Lena is happier for her choice? Like, me, did you also wonder if Hana might be in love with Lena, and was the one to betray her?