By Lauren Oliver
Published by Hodder/Hachette Children's Books
ISBN 978 0 340 98093 4
Here we are again in a future United States of America, the setting for quite a few current young adult novels. If recent writers who set stories in an America of the future are to be believed, this will certainly not be a place that any young person would choose to inhabit.
We have had a US where all the adults mysteriously vanish, a future society that pits teenager against teenager in death games, and a devastated land where just surviving is a struggle. Now, New York novelist Lauren Oliver has come up with yet another take on life in a future US in her second YA novel, Delirium.
The government has closed the country's borders. Falling in love has been declared a contagious disease and blamed for ruining the social fabric of the whole nation.
Fortunately, scientists have found a cure for this terrible disease. At the age of 18, all citizens undergo a brain operation that prevents them from falling in love. Following a government assessment, they are matched with a suitable partner to marry and start a family. Love doesn't come into relationships. It's all worked out on computer, and the US is becoming strong again.
But what happens if someone falls in love before the age of 18? Seventeen-year-old Lena Haloway has exactly 95 days to go before she has her medical procedure. Lena lives with her Aunt Carol and family. Her mother died when she was small. There were rumours at the time that she took her own life because her anti-love procedure went wrong. Lena tries not to think about this too much, and knows she will be safe and happy after her own operation.
It says a great deal about the quality of Oliver's writing and storytelling talent that she sets up the premise and main character of Delirium in such a confident way - even the most sceptical reader will accept what's going on and want to know what happens next.
Lena tells her own story, and she is an attractive and thoughtful narrator. Anything less than a strong take on the central character of a novel like Delirium, and the whole thing would have ended as a laughable mess. Oliver knows that everything hangs on Lena's shoulders, and this likeable girl, caught up in a loveless and sterile future, is a very smart creation.
Of course, though, it doesn't take a mega-brain to work what is going to happen to Lena.
She meets Alex, a free-spirited young man from the Wilds, a part of the country where the Invalids - individuals outside government control - live in the shadows. From this moment, Lena's life leaves the predictable and sanitised path she was expecting and ready to embark on.
Oliver's self-assured prose and utter belief in the story she is telling sweep away any doubts cynical readers might have about Delirium. Just enjoy Oliver's tale and characters and don't ask too many questions.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com