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Not Just for Kids

Love and heroics in the time of dystopia

"Reqiuem," the final novel in Lauren Oliver's "Delirium" trilogy, ends with plenty of heroics but not enough feeling.

March 15, 2013|By Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times
  • The cover of 'Requiem' and author Lauren Oliver.
The cover of 'Requiem' and author Lauren Oliver. (HarperCollins Publishers )

Love is a disease and scientists have perfected a cure: a brain procedure that rids humans of emotion.

Lena Haloway, nearly 18, can't wait to be cured in "Delirium," the first book in Lauren Oliver's dystopian trilogy. She looks forward to a peaceful, pain-free adulthood, when her career, husband and number of children will be chosen for her by the government.

The trilogy begins as a page-turning parable about choosing to embrace the terrifying world of being an adult. The contrast between being safe from pain and embracing the difficult but rewarding world of adult experience — love, fear, hate, sadness, joy — is one that Oliver continues to explore in the second two books of the series, "Pandemonium," released last year, and the newly published final volume, "Requiem."

After she meets Alex, a young man who has not been cured, Lena begins to realize that without emotions, she will live "as though there is a thick, muffling pane of glass between you and everyone else." But Lena doesn't want the easy, if painless, life. The trouble-tree path is lacking something crucial: "Life isn't life if you float through it … The only point is to find the things that matter, and hold on to them, and fight for them, and refuse to let them go," she decides.

This tension is likely something that Oliver's teen readers confront every day; between peaceful and innocent childhood and the more risky and sometimes excruciating realm of young adulthood. But it's one she plays down in the second two books of the series in favor of cinematic heroics and a love story that is, in the end, lacking heart.

Instead, Oliver follows Lena as she joins the resistance of "Invalids," who live outside cities and have refused the cure, as they battle the system. She slowly becomes an essential part of the resistance movement in this dystopian world, where characters die with some degree of frequency and the resistance has no less a task than saving America from itself.

This being a young adult series, Lena does not just try to save America; she is also caught in a tricky love triangle. This type of love triangle — between one nice but boring suitor and a dashing, passionate one — may be familiar to fans of such books as "Twilight" and "Hunger Games."

Indeed, it seems nearly impossible for a YA character to just come of age in a tricky world these days; now, she must battle for the future of our species while she chooses between two teenage boys who love her and are also trying to save the world.

The love triangle certainly isn't a new development, but it may be appearing more in young adult literature as authors realize the commercial benefits of publishing series containing this type of romance. Oliver is no stranger to marketing a book — Fox has optioned both "Delirium" and her novel "Before I Fall." She's also the founder of a successful literary incubator, Paper Lantern Lit. Much like Alloy Publishing, which dreams up plots for "writers to craft into popular books such as "Gossip Girl" and "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," Paper Lantern finds writers, gives them plots, and helps them write YA books.

Literary incubators and book packagers seem a good way to produce popular books, but much like anything that is created by committee, they often lack the artistry of something created for writing's sake, rather than for publishing's sake. It's hard to fault Oliver for this; after all, she's giving readers a story in a formula they've proven to like.

And fans of the series will likely feel sated by "Requiem." It is told from the perspectives of both Lena and her best friend, Hana, who has been cured and still lives a sheltered life inside the walls of Portland, Maine. Lena and Hana each find their own ways of fighting back against the emotionless and calm people who run the nation.

Both young women are faced with decisions and choices in "Requiem," and they must grapple with another consequence of being an adult: the tyranny of choice.

"That is the danger, and beauty, of life without the cure," Lena says, while trying to resolve her love triangle. "There is always wilderness and tangle, and the path is never clear." She ruminates on these choices even as her fellow Invalids wreak havoc on a world without love, and action takes precedence over voice. Bullets whiz. Women scream. Eyes water.

Lena's heroics keep the book moving quickly. But one can't help but wonder what would have happened had Oliver written Lena's story as a genuine coming-of-age story about a young girl trapped in a complicated and terrifying world rather than an action-packed trilogy in the vein of "Hunger Games" and "Twilight." Lower sales, perhaps, but maybe a more complex book that speaks to the thorny experience of growing up rather than a fantasy to escape from it.


Lauren Oliver
HarperCollins: 432 pp, $18.99, ages 14 and older

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