Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Anyone who deals with teen/tween girls knows the symptoms of a crush- staring into space, making bad decisions, glazed over eyes, sometimes a whole new look. The sweet girl you thought you knew suddenly stands in front of you a completely different person. Over the span of a single school year, they can ride emotions like a roller coaster, from euphoric to despondent, over and over again.  I admit- there have been times in my teaching life when i have cursed teen/tween love.

Delirium is a dystopian novel is set in Portland, Maine.  But unlike many other YA dystopian novels, it isn’t set in the future.  Instead, it takes place in an alternate present.  In many ways, this makes the premise even more frightening.  The government has found a cure amor deliria nervosa. Mankind understands that love is the downfall of man, a disease that causes nothing but rot and ruin for those infected.

At age 18, teens undergo a surgical procedure to “cure” them of amor deliria nervosa.  They also sit through an extensive testing process in order for the government to decide upon their occupation and mate.  Lena is about to turn 18, counting down the days until she is cured.  Her life has always been in some sort of upheaval, ever since her infected mother’s suicide.  The surgery will be the final stamp on Lena’s life, ensuring that she is normal.

But nothing goes as planned. On the day of her evaluation she meets a boy. Assuming he is cured, due to the tell-tale scar on his neck, she hesitantly befriends him, spending time with him outside of home and school. But then Lena finds herself changing.  Is this fate? Or is she destined to walk the same dangerous path that her mother did?

Meeting Alex forever alters Lena’s life. Is her life a lie? Is her life any sort of life if she continues to live the way she is supposed to?

Lauren Oliver is a masterful writer.  I could not put Delirium down and I know my Hunger Games fans are going to devour it.  I also have this idea of pairing it with Romeo and Juliet. I am brainstorming here…

Oliver’s story starts out slow, so consider yourself warned.  However, it builds to a magnificent crescendo.  Oliver’s writing slowly gets under your skin and her setting, characterization, and everything else about the book seeps into your mind.  You can smell the salt air, your heart races alongside Lena’s, and you fall for Alex just as hard as she does. But the action builds and builds, and the twist at the end…oh my god!  I kept looking for another page after the last one, hoping I would suddenly find another chapter.  Or, ya know, the next book. Sadly, it appears that we have to wait for the next book in the series.  But I am sure it will be well worth the wait.

Delirium is a brilliant, fascinating look at what our world could be like. It is thought-provoking and heartbreaking and will leave you aching for more when you reach the conclusion. It will be released on February 1, 2011 and you should get to your local Indie store immediately to pre-order a copy!

*ARC from BEA

Dystopian Literature and Tweens

As teachers, it is difficult not to share our passions with our students.  Obviously, books and writing are a passion of mine (along with monarch butterflies).  However, my students know that all books are not created equal in my eyes.  No sirree- show me a dystopian novel and I’ll show you a book I can’t put down.  Needless to say, our unit surrounding The Giver is always one of my favorites.  Today my students wrote in-class short essays comparing the themes in The Giver to those in a dystopian short story.   (Old Glory by Bruce Coville, Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., or All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury).  They chose one of our 5 essential questions to answer and had to use examples from both pieces of literature to back up their opinions.  I am so proud of the thinking and writing they did!

After they completed their work, I rewarded them by handing out a list of dystopian books.  Sort of “If you like The Giver, then you will love….”  I listed about 15 dystopian novels and they were thrilled.  I will share the list on the blog tomorrow, but for now I am looking for your suggestions.  My students exhausted my collection of dystopian novels, so I need more ideas!  What are some of your favorite dystopian tween or YA novels?

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Last night I was up until 1:46am.  Why?  Because I could not put down Neal Shusterman’s creepy dystopian novel,   Unwind. My classes just finished The Giver as a read aloud and I can not wait to booktalk Unwind. tomorrow.  It’s deliciously creepy and I could not put it down.  I carried it in my purse all day, even reading on the car ride down to Easter dinner.  Due to the holiday, I didn’t get a ton of reading in, which resulted in my 2am bedtime.

Unwind is set in the future.  The second civil war took place sometime between now and then, between those who were pro-life and those who were pro-choice.  The peace treaty enacted was meant to satisfy both sides- The Bill of Life.

From The Bill of Life:

“The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen.

However, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a parent may choose to retroactively ‘abort’ a child…

…on condition that the child’s life doesn’t ‘technically’ end.

The process by which a child is both terminated and yet kept alive is called ‘unwinding.’ “

When a teenager is unwound, the law is that every part of them must be used to help someone else.  It’s like nonconsensual organ donation at its absolute worst.  It’s better to be divided and accomplish something great than to be whole and do nothing, right?

There are three protagonists which was a brilliant writing decision on Shusterman’s part.  Connor, Risa, and Levi are all about to be unwound but for very different reasons.  The only thing they have in common is their status as unwounds, and even in that aspect they aren’t equals.  By having all three characters alternate in telling the story we get three very different viewpoints.  I found myself alternately rooting for and hating each on at different points in the story.  These aren’t perfect kids by any means.  They make stupid decisions many times and I just wanted to shake them!  But what a testament to Neal Shusterman’s character development because I felt like I knew each character and I was rooting for each one.

This is one of the most terrifying dystopian novels I have read because the society isn’t all that different from our own.  In the big picture it seems impossible, but Shusterman includes real events from the present-day as reasons for the Bill of Life.  And his reasons don’t seem over-the-top.  In fact, the sequence of events sounds eerily possible.  I found myself folding down pages and marking passages to go look up later.

This would be a phenomenal class read-aloud or book club choice.  The conversation possibilities are almost endless.  The story will disturb you and fascinate you and reader’s won’t be able to put it down.  It’s perfect for readers who have outgrown Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children Series.

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