Ninety-five days, and then I'll be safe. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I want to get it over with. It's hard to be patient. It's hard not to be afraid while I'm still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn't touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don't.
Lauren Oliver astonished readers with her stunning debut, Before I Fall. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called it "raw, emotional, and, at times, beautiful. An end as brave as it is heartbreaking." Her much-awaited second novel fulfills her promise as an exceptionally talented and versatile writer.
Last year I had the chance to read Lauren Oliver's first novel, Before I Fall, as part of Barnes and Nobles First Look Book Club. I got so into the book that I read it all in a day or two. Something about it grabbed me right from the start and kept me reading straight through to the end. In this, her second book, I wasn't hooked quite as early. Once I was I finished it in two days, but I put it down for a while to finish library books and review books, then picked it back up. It could have also been that I was just too distracted when I started it as well.
Lena starts the novel impatiently waiting for her day to receive the cure for love, a brain operation that all citizens receive sometime after they have turned 18. Love was identified as a disease 63 years earlier and 43 years ago a cure was developed that has led to a society without wars. To go along with that, the residents of Portland, Maine, as well as all the other towns, are surrounded by an electrified fence to keep them safe from Invalids who live in the wilds. Invalids are people who have resisted the cure and live outside of the cities. The government bases your profession on how you score on standardized tests and gives you approved matches for marriage based on your evaluation scores. Lena can't wait to escape the chance of disease until she herself finds love and starts to see how the protections provided by society also work in reverse to keep people in a prison like environment.
This book reminded me a bit of Suzanne Collins Hunger Games series. People are kept in and not allowed to leave. It also called to mind a mini-series I recall from many years ago called Amerika. Unfortunately my details of the mini-series are pretty sketchy, but I recall gates and one of the characters being caught doing something against the rules and having a procedure done that made him almost like a vegetable. I wondered if the procedure in this book was like a lobotomy but less severe. All of the adults seem a bit detached. One of the possible side effects is a detachment for a mother or father from their child that makes them unable to care for the child.
Not all of the cured individuals believe in the system, so there is a network of people working against the government. This resistance has members on the outside called Invalids and inside who, if found, are labeled Sympathizers. Phone calls and all interactions are monitored and have the possibility of being reported. Everyone is afraid of what their neighbor might see and report to the monitors. A society managed through fear.
Lena meets Alex a few times before he helps save her from a raid on an illegal party. As they get to know each other they start to spend more and more time together secretly. Alex introduces her to ideas she has never had and opens her eyes to the way things work. He gets her to start thinking for herself and being herself,which has always been discouraged. Seeing Lena grow and change within this constrictive society gave me hope. It also made me wonder how much people in general just accept how things are and go with them, how they plod from day to day looking to the future without giving too much thought to how they could change things for the better in the here and now.
Pub. Date: February 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Format: Hardcover , 441pp
Age Range: Young Adult