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“The Pact” by Jodi Picoult

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

So I was on vacation at my very favorite beach in the entire world, sitting under an umbrella, listening to the sounds of the waves … and, duh, obviously reading a book. I am a librarian, after all! I read an absolutely fabulous new novel, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?,” that is clever, insightful, quirky, and weirdly heartwarming. Check it out! Alas, I do not review it here, because it is an adult novel with little YA crossover. [But the narrator is an eighth grader AND I LOVED IT. Hee. That is all.]

Luckily — or unluckily! — for you good people, I also read Jodi Picoult’s 1998 teen-themed novel “The Pact,” and that, my friends, I am all over in the review department. It’s the story of lifelong friends, teenagers, who become a couple because of love, remain a couple because of expectations, and ultimately confront a promise of mutual suicide. Yeah, that’s heavy stuff, and Picoult, for all her many literary talents, does tend to dip into the old melodrama at times. But, overall, “The Pact” is a gripping novel that deftly explores the complex web of family, friendship, love, hatred, and grief. If it’s a little soapy at times, eh, so be it, because when it’s good, it’s seriously, ridiculously good.

Chris Harte and Emily Gold literally grew up together, as we discover in a series of extended flashbacks. Their moms, Gus Harte and Melanie Gold, are best friends and next-door neighbors who are both pregnant at the same time in 1979. [Remember, folks, this book is a little old, but other than a few jarring technological details — Gus has a beeper! — it’s not at all outdated thematically.] While Chris and Emily begin life as instant friends and constant companions, they eventually fall in, out, and sort of back in love again. I know “The Pact” is a book about suicide — and I’ll get to that issue, I promise! — but I felt that aspect of Chris and Emily’s relationship, that pressure to be something together at almost all costs, was so strikingly real. Emily’s crushing disappointment in not living up to that long-ordained love, in loving Chris but not LOVING him, sends her to a dark place. That pain, coupled with buried sexual abuse, an unexpected occurrence, and a crushing bout of prolonged depression, leads her to contemplate not just her own suicide, but Chris’ as well. Indeed, as the book opens, Emily tells Chris, “I love you,” which is followed by this line:

And then there was a shot.

So the kicker here — and there’s really no way to avoid spoiling it, because it happens at jump — is that following the night of the pact, Chris remains very much alive. While he’s suffering from a gaping but hardly life-threatening head wound in the ER, Emily arrives DOA. As the respective families (and friendships) just about disintegrate from pain, rage, and confusion, we start to learn more about Chris, the survivor at the center of this storm. Chris was the stalwart one, the reliable, smart, kind boy who excelled at two things: swimming and loving Emily. When Chris is arrested for Emily’s murder, it’s not too hard for us to believe that while he may not have killed her out of malice, he clearly could have done so from a toxic mix of adoration and perceived loyalty. Chris’ arrest further rips apart his family and the Golds, while also strangely bringing Chris and his distant, repressed father closer together.

Chris is imprisoned for months while awaiting trial. Picoult flashes back and forth from his prison life, filling in more and more details of Emily’s deepening pain and Chris’ ceaseless devotion. While the jail scenes can play out as a bit over the top, Chris’ pervading sense of fear and heartache is nicely conveyed, and the legal wranglings are easily comprehended. We’re ultimately set up for a splashy trial, complete with surprise witnesses and “shocking” testimony. While perceptive readers will likely view Chris’ confession as telegraphed, the details themselves — and his palpable shame and guilt — trump any obviousness. I saw much of this coming and was still utterly shocked by the depth of Chris’ misguided loyalty and sacrifice.

One of our neighboring school districts requires high school students to read “The Pact” over the summer, and I can see why. From a purely cautionary standpoint, it provides lots of useful information about the warning sides of suicide, and it depicts, with incredible emotion, the devastation left behind in the wake of such a death. Chris and Emily’s evolving relationship — complete with all its joys and disappointments — is also incredibly authentic and will likely resonate with many teens. Perhaps best of all, this book is a page turner, y’all. Beach or no beach, I would’ve devoured it in a day. It truly is that engaging.

“The Pact” is out there, so please give it a read if it now seems interesting. I should note that this one is definitely a high school book, as it contains sexuality, language, drinking, etc. If you really like “The Pact,” the Lifetime network created a movie version a few years back. Check out the trailer below. Happy reading! Wouldn’t you like to be back at the beach right about now? Sigh.

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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“Legend” by Marie Lu

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

“Legend,” the debut dystopian novel written by Marie Lu, was published last November by the good people at the Penguin Young Readers Group. I’m not entirely sure why it took me ages to get around to reading “Legend” (too many books, too little time?), but I’m so glad I finally did. Although there’s nothing genre busting or terribly unique about “Legend,” it’s a fast-paced, engaging dystopian thriller that will leave most readers breathless for book number two. (Which, Penguin, again, you rock, because I just so happen to have an advanced copy of “Prodigy,” the second novel in the “Legend” trilogy. WOOT!)

We start out in a future version of Los Angeles, where fifteen year old Day, the Republic of America’s most famous outlaw, is on the run with his best friend, shy orphan Tess. Day and Tess have been secretly watching Day’s mom and brothers and are horrified to discover that Republic soldiers have quarantined their house. A deadly plague has been springing up periodically in the Republic — yet only in the slum sections; interesting — and now Day’s little brother Eden has fallen ill. In a desperate bid to steal lifesaving meds for Eden, Day breaks into a Republic hospital, with disastrous results.

Meanwhile, fifteen year old June is one of the Republic’s shining stars. A prodigy with a perfect 1500 on her Trial, June is the top student at prestigious Drake University. June is on the fast track to assume a top position in the military, much like her beloved brother Metias. And then everything falls apart. Stalwart, noble Metias is killed the night of Day’s hospital break in, allegedly by Day’s own hand, but you can smell a government coverup a mile away. Except, June cannot, because she has been so thoroughly indoctrinated by Republic propaganda, and so thoroughly insulated from society’s ravages by her deceased parents’ wealth, that she blindly accepts the Republic version of events. Commander Jameson — in my mind, a meaner version of Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager! — personally recruits June to go undercover as a street person, find Day, and bring him to justice. Needless to say, June is all in, because she can’t wait to exact revenge.

So, of course, undercover June will meet Day-with-an-assumed-name, they’ll fall for each other, their real identities will be revealed, and betrayal / heartbreak / chaos will ensue. Guys, this is a teen novel, and, as I mentioned, we’re not breaking any new ground here. But that’s absolutely okay, because the romance is believable, the government conspiracy is gripping, the secrets are appropriately troubling, and the relentless pace keeps the story moving along quite nicely. Need more? The dual narration makes “Legend” more easily accessible for girl and boy readers, which is always a good thing in my book, and the characters are well crafted. I especially loved all the shadowy Republic figures, like Metias’ oily, conniving friend Thomas and the lethal Trial director Chian. If the Republic is truly an awful, repressive force, then its minions should convey a real sense of danger, which they do in spades here. I’m all about a villain, y’all. 😉

“Legend” also exhibits some surprising emotional depth, which is a bit unexpected — but welcome — in an action-based novel. Day’s longing for his mom and brothers, June’s grief over Metias’ death, and the pair’s affection for the sweet Tess help the story find its humanity and move us from the level of secrets and chases and lies to something a bit more real. Throw in some hardcore sacrifice — ah, the bravery! — and you end up with a thrilling story that wields some real emotional pop. Well done.

“Legend” is out now. Read it, already! And keep an eye out for the sequel in (gulp!) early 2013.

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Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

Y’all, summer reading preparations have kept me from writing up my book reviews. But, I promise, I have been reading! Scout’s honor. :-p

Here’s a review of one of the BEST books I’ve read this year, Elizabeth Wein’s intriguing, twisty, deeply engaging World War II novel “Code Name Verity.” When was the last time a book was part history lesson, part spy game, and part emotional drama? Yeah, I thought not. How about that same book also featuring two FEMALE leads, one a British spy and one a young British pilot? That’s right. Unique concept, beautifully written … read on for more, friends.

The novel is divided into two sections with two separate narrators, and it’s up to us as readers to piece the overall story together and decide how much is truth and how much is a lie. In the first section, we have aristocratic Scot Julie (Verity) who works as a spy for the British. Julie was captured inside occupied France and is being held by the ruthless Gestapo (the Nazi secret police) as a prisoner of war in a commandeered hotel. Julie has been starved, terrorized, and tortured for information, which she is finally revealing in a confession written daily on recipe cards, prescription pads, and other leftover reminders of normal life. Julie’s confession is structured as the story of her friendship with a young British pilot named Maddie (Kittyhawk), and throughout her discourse, Julie interweaves secret details of British planes, airstrips, codes, and missions. Repeatedly, Julie laments that fact that the Gestapo have broken her and that she is now the worst kind of coward and traitor for revealing these details of the British war effort. But is she?

In the second half of the novel, we hear much of the same story from Maddie’s point of view. Maddie’s plane, carrying Julie to her mission, crash landed in occupied France, and she’s now being kept hidden by some French Resistance folks. Maddie records the story of her pilot training, her friendship with Verity, and the crash landing, as well as details of the Resistance effort to return her and other downed British pilots safely to England. Maddie figures her British superiors will want a full recounting, and the writing helps her maintain her sanity as whole days pass with her trapped in a claustrophobic barn loft. Straight off, we notice some striking differences in Maddie’s account, most tellingly her repeated conviction that Julie is the bravest, strongest, and smartest young woman she has ever met. Interesting. Even Julie’s staged meeting with an appeasing American journalist is markedly different here than in Julie’s version.

I really cannot reveal more plot details — I won’t ruin it for you! — other than to say that “Code Name Verity” ultimately becomes an absolutely heartbreaking story of friendship, honor, and sacrifice. The two lead characters, Julie and Maddie, are both believably terrified while also being believably brave, feisty, and selfless. The secondary characters are also well developed, especially the Gestapo Captain von Linden, Julie’s captor, who is strangely kind and charming while also being incredibly sadistic. I think teens will be drawn in by the spying, codebreaking, planes, secrecy, and adventure, all of which keeps the story flowing even when we’re not exactly sure what’s happening. And the big reveals at the end — when the whole truth (?) is finally revealed — are staggering. I wanted to go back and reread everything again to catch all the clues!

“Code Name Verity” is a brilliant novel that is perfect for boys and girls who are older middle schoolers. Although there is torture and violence in this story, the majority of it is very discreetly presented and entirely age appropriate. I adored this beautiful, gut-wrenching novel, which will surely be one of the best books published for teens in 2012. Please check it out.

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Posted by on June 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“Perfect Chemistry” and “Rules of Attraction” by Simone Elkeles

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S NOTE:

I'm reviewing together the first two books of Simone Elkeles' "Perfect Chemistry" trilogy. Although the particulars are different, each book is basically a steamy, updated version of the star-crossed love story featured in "Romeo and Juliet" (or "Pretty in Pink" or "She's All That" or "West Side Story" or … well, you get the picture!). I slightly preferred the first book, "Perfect Chemistry," over its successor, "Rules of Attraction," but I'll admit I thoroughly enjoyed both novels. Despite soap opera plots, cliched setups, and mostly flat characterizations, I gobbled both books up … and even re-read some passages. These books may be light and a bit trashy, but they're fast-paced, addictive, and rewarding in their own way.

Ok, so in the barest of plot outlines, both books feature a poor bad boy with a heart of gold who falls in love with an innocent, good girl from the other side of town. The characters resist the unexpected pull, outsiders (and occasionally family members) are opposed, events conspire to keep the lovers apart, a tragic event occurs, and, ultimately, we get our well-earned happy ending. [By the way, I LOVE a happy ending in YA literature!]

In "Perfect Chemistry," Latino gangbanger Alex Fuentes is paired as a chem lab partner with white cheerleading captain Brittany Ellis. They instantly hate each other, bickering constantly, which only masks the intense attraction they both feel. Alex stupidly makes a bet to score with Brittany before Thanksgiving, but in trying to bring the most perfect, popular girl in school down a notch, he actually starts caring for her. A lot. On Brittany's side, her rigid perfection is a cover for a troubled home life, and, despite having a (jerky) boyfriend, she finds herself thinking about Alex and his secret sweet side all the time. Throw in an escalation in Alex's gang involvement, violence, falling in love, vulnerability, rejection, and heartache, and you get the idea here.

Although it can be incredibly obvious at times — of course the tough guy is sweet; of course the popular girl is scared; of course all their fighting is hiding true love; of course Brit's boyfriend is a lout; etc. — "Perfect Chemistry" works because it hits every star-crossed love note perfectly. Yes, this plotline has been done to death, but author Elkeles expertly captures the angst, desperation, and world-shaking importance of first love. She also does a superb job of conveying the sensual, intoxicating side of that love without ever crossing the line into tawdriness or inappropriateness. This is, after all, a teen novel.

Much of what I just wrote can be applied to "Rules of Attraction," which is set three years later. Middle Fuentes brother Carlos is sent from Mexico (where he's joined a gang) to Colorado to live with reformed older brother Alex. Carlos is exactly like Alex in the first novel — sexy, arrogant, smart, confident, undisciplined, and hotheaded. Following an arrest, Carlos moves in with classmate Kiara Westford's family. Professor Westford agrees to supervise Carlos in an attempt to help him straighten out his life before he ends up in jail or dead. Unlike the beautiful, popular Brittany, Kiara is a tomboy who can fix cars, hike mountains, and play soccer. She also stutters when nervous, which causes her bitchy classmates to ridicule her. Kiara begins to fall for Carlos when she sees his shy, kind side, although Carlos at first insists they be only fake boyfriend and girlfriend. Naturally, this doesn't last long! Much like Alex, Carlos is also stalked by the perils of gang life and must risk violence and death to be with the girl he loves. That's heady stuff!

The biggest difference in "Rules of Attraction" lies in Kiara's family. While the Ellises are cold and distant, Kiara's folks are warm, involved, and compassionate. Kiara's dad is one of the few truly well-rounded characters in either novel, as this mild mannered, bleeding heart psychologist has a hidden past, a tough streak, and secrets of his own. I loved the relationship Carlos develops with Professor Westford and how Carlos matures under the Professor's patient care.

Again, despite the flaws here, the essence of the story — that true love among teens is powerful, frightening, uplifting, and so worth dying for — is captivating. There is a real sense of urgency behind Carlos and Kiara's relationship, which is fueled by the palpable deadline of Carlos' impending, coerced drug deal. If the resolution of Carlos' gang predicament is both laughable and wholly unrealistic, so be it. It takes nothing away from the raw energy that pervades this book. Just check out the scene depicted on the book's cover, when Carlos and Kiara lean out of car windows in the rain after an emotional night, and you'll get a sense of what I'm talking about here.

Neither "Perfect Chemistry" nor "Rules of Attraction" are going to win any awards for literary merit. So what? These books work wonderfully as intense teen romances. Even if I rolled my eyes at times, I raced through both books, re-reading, sighing, laughing, and, on one occasion, even crying a little. If that's not the mark of a great teen romance, I don't know what is.

Final note: although both novels are sensual, they aren't graphic. The sex takes place "off camera." There is a great deal of strong language, but that's to be expected in books that star gang members. If the language doesn't put you off, I don't see any problem with 8th graders (maybe even mature 7th graders?) reading these books. And if you love them as much as I did, the third book — yay for another Fuentes brother! — comes out in August 2011. Enjoy!

Here's the book trailer for "Rules of Attraction," which I think captures the smoking hot intensity I've been trying to describe!

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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“Blank Confession” by Pete Hautman

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Pete Hautman is the author of the National Book Award winner "Godless," as well as last year's super popular (well, at least at Kinnelon Library!) "How To Steal a Car." In his latest teen novel, "Blank Confession," Hautman relates the story of high school student Shayne Black, who walks into a police station one night and confesses to murder. The story is part mystery, part character study, as we slowly discover more about secretive newcomer Shayne and his escalating tensions with drug dealing bully Jon Brande. While there's a real level of implausibility here — which, incidentally, I came to accept! — this is a powerful book about abuse, power, and responsibility.

The story is told in alternating chapters, with a third person narrator giving us insight into Shayne's long confession to Detective Rawls, while Shayne's lone friend, the part Haitian, suit-wearing Mikey Martin, fills us in on the back story. Seems that Jon has been dating Mikey's flighty older sister, Marie. Jon forces Mikey to hide a bag of drugs in his locker, which Mikey has to ditch in the boys' room when police sweep the school. After Jon beats up Mikey and demands a $500 replacement fee, Shayne intervenes. Mikey is his friend, and he wants to stand up for him. As importantly, Shayne has drifted through a lot of schools (he tells varying stories of who his parents are and where he came from). Bullies like Jon violate Shayne's code of ethics, and he simply cannot let them act without challenge. So, despite being outnumbered — and facing a psychopath! — Shayne intervenes, with disastrous personal consequences. For although Shayne has a steely toughness and some wicked martial arts moves, he's no match for Jon and his testosterone-laden buddies. Shayne's sense of responsibility for Mikey and his meth-using sister ultimately leads him to a violent encounter at Jon's party.

"Blank Confession" is written in short sentences and has a rapid pace. I can easily see it holding the attention of even the most reluctant reader. And Mikey is a great character. While Shayne can seem a bit removed with his stoicism and quiet courage, Mikey is a witty fireplug; he's fun to be around, even as his situation becomes ever more precarious and his actions more dangerous. Other characters have unexpected depth as well. We clearly see how Jon became so violent and ugly, while also discovering, in a surprising fashion, that one of his thuggish pals has more heart than expected.

My only gripe with this novel lies in the fact that it may be hard to buy Shayne as a roving crusader, a kind of lone wolf traveling from town to town, saving people. He's a teenager, for cripe's sake! Where is he staying? Who is paying for his clothes and food? How is even registering for school with no documents? As I mentioned above, I was able to put these issues aside and just enjoy this short, compelling story of honor and sacrifice. "Blank Confession" is a great book for boys, in particular, as it is chuck full of believable male characters and engrossing action sequences. I'd recommend this one for older middle school readers; there is some level of violence and drug use here, although none of it felt gratuitous to me. Give "Blank Confession" a try. I think you'll be riveted by it!

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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“Beautiful Creatures” by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"Beautiful Creatures," released in 2009, is the first book in the "Caster Chronicles." So, yes, if you're thinking paranormal romance trilogy — just like every teen novel out there today! — you would, in a sense, be correct. But thankfully "Beautiful Creatures" isn't just like every other teen novel around; it has a male protagonist (woot!), a lushly detailed Southern setting, a pervading sense of family, a bevy of Civil War references, and an intriguing cast of secondary characters. To me, it reads more like a Southern gothic novel than generic teen paranormal fiction … and that's a very good thing.

We're in the tiny town of Gatlin, South Carolina, where 16 year old Ethan Wate lives with his grieving father (mom died last year in an accident) and nanny / housekeeper / cook / surrogate mother Amma. Dad spends most of his time locked in his study, so Ethan must deal with his pain on his own, with a stern yet loving hand from Amma. Ethan is a popular basketball star with a charmingly goofy wannabe rock star best friend, Link. Gatlin's restrictiveness — people's roots go back hundreds of years, causing some very fixed opinions and outlooks — frustrates Ethan, who longs to get away from a place where everyone knows (and judges) everyone else.

Enter Lena Duchannes, the niece of eccentric loner Macon Ravenwood, who moves into town. Macon owns the last surviving plantation house in Gatlin — also named Ravenwood — but is never seen around town. Macon is a ghost, a whisper, an eternal source of gossip, the kind of spooky outsider reviled in a small town. (Heh … clearly, Macon understands this; his dog is named Boo Radley!) Lena drives Macon's hearse, and with her curly black hair, Converse sneakers, and overloaded charm necklace, she's as different as possible from her prim Southern belle classmates.

Ethan is immediately drawn to Lena, because, among other things, he's been dreaming about her for months. Before he ever met her. When Ethan discovers that Lena has been dreaming about him, too, Ethan begins to learn just how different Lena and her family are. Turns out Lena is a Caster — in the simplest terms, a kind of witch — while Uncle Macon is an Incubus who feeds on hope and dreams. Members of Lena's family are claimed light or dark when they turn 16, which for Lena is mere months away. Lena's impending Claiming freaks her out — cousin Ridley went to the dark side and is an evil siren now — so as Ethan and Lena become closer, he spends a lot of time reassuring her that she will be claimed light. Admittedly, this becomes a wee bit tedious. But Ethan also helps Lena research other methods of avoiding her Claiming, including an old family locket that transports the two back to the Civil War, when neighboring plantation Greenbrier was burned by Union soldiers. Throw in a creepily foreboding song, the shadowy Book of Moons, Macon's erratic behavior, Amma's secret powers, Link falling under Ridley's spell, Mom's messages from beyond the grave, a shocking betrayal, and a hidden supernatural library, and you've got a textured, lively story that goes way beyond the "boy loves supernatural" trope.

Speaking of which, Ethan — the boy! — is our narrator here, which is so unbelievably rare in a teen novel, let alone a teen paranormal novel, that I'm still kind of shocked. In a good way! Co-authors Garcia and Stohl absolutely nail a teen guy's voice, and they perfectly portray the quiet rules of male friendship in developing Ethan and Link's relationship. They also make Ethan believably strong yet vulnerable in his burgeoning romance with Lena. I really dug how hard it was for Ethan to express his feelings for Lena, even when they were so ridiculously obvious. His hesitation and uncertainty rang true.

I loved the precise details of the Southern setting, including Amma's decadent food; the smells (rosemary and lemons figure prominently in the story); the local traditions, including a Civil War reenactment; the courtly manners; and the unique use of language. The setting grounded this magical story, adding layers to the plot and shading the characters — many of whom have their own Southern quirks — in believable ways. Indeed, the minor characters, including Ethan's batty great aunts and a whip smart, empathetic librarian, give the book a depth and vitality that often make the words leap off the page.

My only complaint is that I was a bit let down by the ending. After spending hundreds of pages creating three-dimensional characters, suddenly the authors have them acting like complete knuckleheads in service of the plot. (Fiercely protective Uncle Macon is easily duped, Ethan constantly does the wrong thing, powerful Lena suddenly becomes weak and cowering … huh?) The authors' use of a Claiming "loophole" also frustrated me, as it seemed like a contrivance to justify another book in the series. Since I've just started the sequel, "Beautiful Darkness," I guess I'll find out if I'm being too harsh on this point.

I absolutely recommend "Beautiful Creatures" to fans of paranormal romances, as well as those looking for an intriguing, rich story of Southern life, family, loss, and love. This book is remarkably clean, so unless you're put off by the magical elements, I'd say older middle schoolers should be fine. And please don't be turned off by the book's considerable length. Truly, the pages fly by. Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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“Delirium” by Lauren Oliver

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Lauren Oliver's debut novel, "Before I Fall," was a New York Times bestseller and, at the Kinnelon Library, one of the most popular books of 2010. It's never on the shelf! I can confidently predict that Oliver's follow-up, February's "Delirium," will be an even bigger hit, as she begins her dystopian trilogy in truly remarkable fashion. "Delirium" will be compared to "The Hunger Games" — it shares an oppressive government and shocking loss of civil rights — but there's more pure romance here than in even some of the girliest of girl books. I literally cannot wait for book #2 … and the first installment hasn't even been officially released yet. Ugh!

Ok, so here's the rundown: We're in Portland, Maine at an unspecified point in the future. The government rules with an iron fist — all books, music, websites, and even ideas are chosen and regulated by the state — and infractions of the many rules are simply not tolerated. Nightly raiding parties and armed guards stoke fear and keep everyone in line. What, above all else, must be zealously guarded against? Love. That's right. Love is the ultimate danger, a disease that can render one delirious and can spread to infect an entire family. Love will drive you insane, and it is feared like the plague. When boys and girls — who are segregated in all aspects of life — turn 18, they are "cured" at government labs. All capacity for love, affection, and tenderness is eradicated and their safety from amor deliria nervosa is insured. If you remember "The Stepford Wives" (book or either film version), then you have a good idea of the dulled affects and complacent lives of the cured folks.

We meet high school senior Lena right before her graduation and 95 days prior to her designated cure time. Lena's mom was never properly cured of love for her dead father. Despite three procedures, mom still loved, danced, and laughed, and she committed suicide rather than face another cure attempt. Lena was thus orphaned as a young girl, branded as tainted and dangerous, and sent to live with her bland Aunt Carol. Lena is an interesting character; she longs for the safety and stability of the cure while recognizing an internal passion and creativity that bring both joy and immense discomfort. In fact, during her state evaluation, she relates that the pale gray of sunrise is her favorite color. This kind of individuality is a threat to Lena's own safety, for creativity and imagination are dangerously close to forbidden passion. Such deviations from the norm are cause for immediate imprisonment in the Crypts, the government's medieval-esque prison where independent thinkers literally rot away, chained and forgotten.

When Lena meets Alex, a seemingly cured boy with golden eyes and hair the color of autumn leaves, she discovers an entire subculture where freedom of expression, music, poetry, and, yes, love thrive. She learns that the Invalids who live beyond the borders, out in the Wilds, may have been right to resist all along. Maybe these "others" aren't mad and diseased after all. Maybe the Invalids are actually the normal ones. Lena's worldview is dangerously enlarged further when she falls in love with the lively, warm Alex. Loving Alex is a breathtaking plunge into sweeping, swooning glory, an entry into a world of color, music, light, and freedom. The expansiveness of love, how it opens the entire universe to you, contrasts beautifully with the strict, limiting, cramped nature of Lena's everyday existence, where so much is regulated and made taboo. (The stifling Portland summer, with little electricity and plenty of crushing heat and stickiness, is a wonderful metaphor for the oppressiveness of society. Rock on!)

The characters here are spot-on, especially Lena, who remains awkward, self-conscious, and fearful through much of the story. Her progression from adamantly trying to be "nothing special" to actively breaking rules and taking huge chances feels real every step of the way. We see her doubts and worries but also share the sheer exhilaration of her first glimpses of love and freedom. Likewise, Alex is stalwart and strong while still maintaining believable levels of frustration with Lena and terror at his private moments of rebellion. My favorite character, though, may be Lena's best friend Hana, a spoiled rich girl who plays with revolution like it's just another toy to alleviate boredom. Hana yearns to challenge things but also wants the perks of her life and the safety of her compliance. When her loyalty is finally tested, her actions felt entirely authentic to me.

As I mentioned, the descriptions here are captivating. Besides Portland's blazing heat, we get the crisp winds and sparkling skies of the Wilds, the revelry of music at a rave, the incandescence of love, the inhuman violence of raiders, and the rotting stink of the Crypts, all in exquisite detail. Oliver's writing as a whole is just as strong here as in "Before I Fall," as she builds a compelling future world with precise rules, a well-defined religion (hard science has eradicated faith) and complex systems of regimentation and punishment. Brava!

"Delirium" reads like a cross between "Fahrenheit 451" and "Romeo and Juliet." It delivers tons of suspense and thrills, wonderful language and characters, a finely delineated world, and the kind of enthralling, non-saccharine romance that is often missing from teen novels. (The scene where Alex woos Lena under a night sky with long forgotten poems, after which she finally allows herself to taste the sweetness of the word "love" in her own mind, is unforgettable.) "Delirium" is a fantastic read for high school students, and I'm sure this one will be spread like wildfire. "Delirium" releases in February 2011. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed!

PS – Check out the Publishers Weekly article on Harper Teen's search for the perfect cover for "Delirium."

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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