Lauren Oliver crashed onto the scene with her debut novel Before I Fall, about a high school senior in a fatal car accident who gets a number of chances to make things right. Here the author imagines a not-too-distant future in Portland, Maine, in which people must be "cured" of the ability to love.
With this innovative premise, Oliver taps into the feverish feelings of adolescence. "In the old days, the dark days, people didn't realize how deadly a disease love was," says Lena Haloway. Luckily, for more than four decades, everyone has been able to get a cure for the disease, called "delirium," on his or her 18th birthday with a simple "procedure." In 95 days, Lena is scheduled to undergo hers. The entire novel takes place over the course of roughly 80 days, leading up to her operation. But not everyone believes in the procedure. These "sympathizers" might be put to death or thrown into the Crypts.
When the book begins, Lena believes that the procedure will leave her "happy and safe forever. That's what everybody says." She'll get her list of approved matches and be married within three months. But something goes awry during her "evaluation." She thinks about how her mother "remained uncured despite three separate procedures." And Lena remembers the last words her mother spoke to her, when Lena was just six years old: "I love you. Remember. They cannot take it." Swept up in these memories, Lena doesn't respond with the answers she'd prepared, and her evaluators become suspicious. Luckily, she's saved by a stampede of cows in the examination room. And when she looks up to the observation deck, Lena sees someone laughing.
His name is Alex. Alex "infects" Lena--in the best possible way. Between Alex and Hana, Lena's best friend, Lena begins to question the teachings that have been handed down. Lena hears music, poetry and fairy tales for the first time. She sees the ocean and learns to dance. But these taboo freedoms also scare her, and she vascillates between wanting the "safety" the procedure promises and the excitement of feeling things fully. She gets at the heart of that tug-of-war between wanting to grow up and be independent, and feeling frightened and wanting to be taken care of.
This book may not be quite as tightly structured and swiftly paced as Oliver's Before I Fall, but the writing is just as captivating, and an unexpected mystery unfolds. Fans of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies and Ally Condie's Matched especially will enjoy this vision of a society that decides what's best for everyone and takes extreme measures to implement its vision.--Jennifer M. Brown