Lauren Oliver's Delirium has an interesting premise that should, by all means, have led to a fabulous young adult novel. In a dystopian world where love has been named a disease, protagonist Lena meets Alex and everything changes. Oliver's premise--love as a curable disease--is a hard one to buy, and despite her lovely writing, the plot never really seems to overcome it. Oliver resorts to cliches prevalent in dystopian young adult fiction, making the novel--despite its originality--come off trite and boring with only passages that show Oliver's promise.
Our protagonist Lena is like many other dystopian science fiction heroines. She's brunette, shy and claims not to be very pretty. We've seen this girl in a dozen variations from Bella Swan to Katniss Everdeen to the point where I wonder if young adult publishers are changing all female protagonists to fit this mold. Oliver spends a significant amount of time establishing how Lena is plain and how her best friend Hana is blonde, curvy and beautiful. Then the handsomest boy in the world shows up and is madly in love with Lena on sight. It's that kind of eye-rolling plot development that weakens Oliver's storytelling. While there is a danger to their love, the occasional plot holes about the nature of so-called Invalids (those who have illegally avoided being cured of love) prevent that danger from becoming fully realized.
Oliver set her dystopian world in an alternate version of the present instead of a distant, science fiction future. This is one of the more interesting tactics, as it sometimes gives the novel a more relateable feeling. However, more successful novels in this genre tend to totally disorient readers so that the high concept is more believable.
It would have been nice to see more government interference in Delirium. Aside from a raid here and there, this faceless government has little presence outside of the concept. Having a clear antagonist (President Snow in The Hunger Games series, Jeanine in Divergent) provides more focus that would benefit the novel.
If you like romance plots, this might be a pretty solid book. While Lena's overthrowing of the government is certainly imminent in the sequels, this first entry focuses exclusively on the romance plot. It's interesting to build the series this way (by the end of the novel there is a sense of the typical government takedown coming), but becomes repetitive over time, all the secret dating.
High on concept but low on execution, Oliver's sentences are beautifully crafted but are not greater than the sum of their parts. Perhaps something more exciting will occur in the sequels, but this series just feels like more of the same.
You can find Lauren Oliver's Delirium at your local chain bookstore, online or at an independent bookstore near you (click here for a list). Also look for the eBook download on Kindle, Nook, iPad or other reading device.