Thursday, August 18, 2011

Verdict, No. 10

by Lauren Oliver
"He is my world and my world is him and without him there is no world," p. 332
I hate being wrong. And I hate having to admit publicly that I'm wrong. And I hate when I let the immense amount of poor literature taint my usual optimism for books. Mostly though, I hate being wrong. And I was wrong.

Well, no, I was right: everything I said would happen pretty much happened; it was a book riddled with cliches and predictable plots. And I tried really hard to hate it--I was practically determined to write yet another scathing review condemning the world of YA lit. I mean, from the get-go, everything was stacked against it. By anyone else, it would have been a disaster. But, see, it wasn't written by anyone else. It was written by Lauren Oliver, who's deft prose always seems to transcend any traditional YA traps. At least for me.

She did it with Before I Fall (that story should have been a mess, but it was beautiful), and she does it again with Delirium. Because, honestly, it was so very pretty.

It was as if Scott Westerfeld and Anna Godberson's books got together and made a baby--that would be Delirium. That quirky combination of serious heart and thought meddled with melodramatic love affairs, capped with tantalizing characters and heart-thudding finishes. So of course I love it.

Was it world-class fiction that will go down in history as a new classic? Hardly. It was self-indulgent YA frivolousness at its best. And it was done so beautifully. There was none of the arrogance or self-important writing some YA, and especially dystopian YA, falls into. It didn't feel over-the-top or overtly melodramatic; Oliver wasn't taking it too seriously or not seriously enough. She wasn't trying to be illustrious, she wasn't trying to be either a trendsetter or a follower. She was just writing a story she wanted to tell. And it was refreshing, that lack of an ulterior motive. An author that still writes just for the love of writing!

With Oliver, I never felt like I was being jerked around, like these characters were just cut-outs of reality to further a plot and churn out sequels. Everything, every decision (well...almost every decision) felt natural. The characters felt real and their choices felt at least plausible, and that saved it. Because even though you see everything coming from a mile (or at least a few chapters) away, the characters are real enough to still care, to feel attached, to really wish the sequel was right there so you could just find out what happens next.

So, there. I was wrong.

I was wrong about it being like Twilight. Twilight is and will always be trash--the epitome of bad fiction, bad storytelling, bad characterization, bad everything. And this might not have been the epitome of perfect literature, but it was great fun. And it was wonderfully written.

I was wrong about it being mushy, because there wasn't as much of the ooey gooey love stuff as I presupposed. There were definitely some intermittent eye-roll crap (see above quote), and some what-the-is-happening moments. Did it drag? Yes. Was 400+ pages a little much? Sure. But it wasn't overwhelming.

And I was wrong about the world not mattering. It was and will be very important to the story and the characters, which is just grand. The one problem was I couldn't entirely buy into the concept. I don't understand why anyone would so suddenly and so obsessively get rid of love. It doesn't seem like a normal power-play for the government. Especially not how they talk it up as deadly. And that is never explained.

But I could forgive all that and anything else because of one thing and one alone: I am a sucker for Oliver's writing. Because even is she sticks to the most cliche story lines, it always feels like something entirely new. True, some bits felt too melodramatic (it is a forbidden love story, after all), but so much of it felt alive. Like I was there. So whatever weaknesses in the contrived plot, characters, or setting--and there were some--her writing lulled me into a pleasant dream that I couldn't mind, no matter the flaws.

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