Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Love and Dystopia in Teen Fiction

This weekend I enjoyed two new teen titles that coincidentally turned out to have similar themes. One was the second book by Lauren Oliver, and the other was the first book of a planned trilogy by Ally Condie. Each book is set in a future society in which rigid rules govern how people interact and how they live out their lives, but each book has a different premise around which these somewhat similar societies evolved.

In Delirium, by Lauren Oliver, love is considered the most deadly of deadly things: it kills you both when you have it and when you don't. The Consortium has done its best to obliterate both the emotions and outcomes of love, which is identified as an actual disease, labeled amor deliria nervosa; at age 18, everyone goes through a "procedure" to eradicate the disease from their mind. After the procedure, the personality becomes calm and even, with no highs or lows, and everyone does their duty and fits into their niche. Lena is anxious to get the procedure over with, so she can start feeling secure; her own mother had the procedure performed four times to no avail, and eventually committed suicide, so Lena is particularly fearful of the effects of deliria in her own gene pool. Before she reaches her operation date, however, she meets Alex, a dashing, handsome and kind Invalid (not as in "ill and resting on the sofa" but as in "this identification card is invalid") who, of course, reveals the ugly underside of this supposedly perfectly regulated world and tempts her to be a rule-breaker and follow her heart.

In Matched, by Ally Condie, love is tolerated, but waste is not: Society has been remade to eliminate excess, the random factors that cause the depletion of world resources to the harm of humankind. A central government dictates what work you will do, what you will wear, what entertainments you may pursue, who you will marry, and even when you will die. Everything is supposedly equally optimal for all members of society, who want to be good citizens for the betterment of everyone. Cassia is 17, about to be matched with her future husband--only when she puts her microcard into her portscreen, she gets two matches instead of one. Officials assure her that a mistake has been made and her true match is her best friend, Xander, who she loves; but her attention can't help being drawn to the second match, Ky, who is careful on the surface to appear perfectly cooperative but who harbors the soul of an artist and a poet, which he gradually reveals to Cassia. I particularly loved how the author used the poetry of Dylan Thomas to speak to and influence Cassia towards questioning everything she has previously accepted as normal.

Oliver's first book was Before I Fall, which I reviewed here on November 19 of last year, and which is featured on this year's Teens Top Ten ballot (more on that later). Condie (right) previously wrote the Yearbook trilogy; the next sequel to Matched (Crossed) is coming out this November. I look forward to reading more by these talented and imaginative writers!

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