DELIRIUM: Taking the Trope and Turning it Over

When I finished Lauren Oliver’s DELIRIUM trilogy this weekend, at first I was upset that it ended without any sort of personal resolution for Lena (not to mention that since I read it on my Kindle, it dropped off at 90% to do a preview for her other novel, and I was not quite expecting that to be the end). While I walked a few blocks home, I was thinking about the end of REQUIEM and how disappointed I was that it was the end.

It seems that it should be pretty clear that this post contains severe spoilers for the books, but here’s your warning just in case.

And then, suddenly, I realized that this was the ending I would have written, and this is the ending I should want for a YA novel and series. As you know if you’ve read the series, the final book ends with Lena overlooking the triumphant destruction of the “cured” society, with Valids and Invalids breaking down the walls to the Wilds, and she has just told Alex she still loves him and she’s watching Julian and her mostly-absent mother breaking down the wall.

Since a lot of YA novels struggle to overcome the love triangle as the crux of the trilogy–and it seemed like this was headed for the same fate–I was fully expecting Lena to have made her decision by the end of the book. However, she doesn’t–not really, anyway. She knows that she loves both Alex and Julian, and that her future is going to involve some sort of hard decision regarding them. But! The crux of the trilogy is the fact that all of her work, everything she’s done since she escaped Portland, has all been worth it and that they have triumphed over the present regime. Thrillingly, too, Lena knows herself inside and out, and knows that even though she is emotionally a bit confused, everything will be okay. I did expect that would be a part of the end of the series, but honestly, I expected the love triangle to take priority position, and I am so glad I was so wrong.

However, the love triangle is not totally irrelevant, and in fact, this series turned it on its head and made it the vehicle for Lena’s personal growth. Many times the love triangle arises to give conflict and an adolescent edge to what could go one way or another as far as novel classification goes. It’s becoming a pretty standard trope in YA, for better or worse, but DELIRIUM just absolutely kills it with making the romance less about series conflict and more about coming of age in the time of revolution.

It’s not often you get a series that transcends the more basic tropes of YA. I mean, even The Hunger Games couldn’t escape the inevitable Gale v Peeta situation, and it’s pretty inarguably one of the most successful YA series in recent history. And honestly, I’m not against the love triangle as a trope. Romantic confusion is a major part of being a teenager and becoming an adult, and it’s quite aptly dealt with in many books. A lot of times, though, the series can lose its focus and become less about the narrator’s personal growth in the face of major conflict (usually initiated as the Special Snowflake in the Storm of Revolution, but that’s not for now) and more about which crush he or she will choose.

Also, let’s talk about Alex. For the first book, he was great. I don’t usually cry in books, but I came pretty close when they made their big escape attempt and we thought he was dead. I mean, I’ve watched enough TV to know that if you don’t see a confirmed body, they’re probably not really dead.

But that point aside, it made me sad for Lena when we thought he was dead. Of course, though, when he showed back up and was terrible, I immediately threw him a whole lot of side-eye and completely dismissed him as a love interest for her. For one, Julian is fantastic, and for two, in the first book, he’s meant to be this guide for her, and when he comes back, he’s so immature he can’t handle the fact that Lena obviously thought he was dead and moved on (like a normal person!). He’s actually upset she isn’t still pining away over his dead body, and for that, he punishes her relentlessly in every way possible, until he breaks down from this nobility complex and admits he still loves her. I mean, it’s pretty textbook, and it’s pretty ridiculous.

That said, I’ve been there, and maybe the reason I’m reacting so strongly is that I’ve had multiple teenage boyfriends act like they were doing me a favor by breaking up with me because they weren’t good enough for me. And then, as predicted, everything was terrible. But maybe that’s part of growing up, too, and although I think there was a better way to go about it, maybe it means that Lena is made a stronger character. For a girl who had never experienced any romantic emotion, she definitely needed to go through the whole cycle of life/death/rebirth re love. I don’t think Alex needed to be as terrible as he was, but it was definitely an interesting and necessary exploration of quintessential adolescence.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Hana’s involvement in the series. When Lena escaped to the Wilds in the first book, I assumed that was the end of Hana, and I couldn’t have been more delighted to know otherwise. To have this mirror image of the two of them both experiencing love and emotion for the first time, having come from exactly the same place but splitting in their new experiences and not knowing what is and isn’t normal–it absolutely broke my heart and I loved it. It would have been a real missed opportunity to not introduce a character for whom the cure hadn’t worked, and for it not to be Hana, and when I realized what was happening it felt like some of my dreams were coming true for this series.

Anyway, I don’t want it to come across that I hate love triangles–or that I absolutely love them–but I do think that DELIRIUM is a book that requires the catalysts brought on by the most likely form of the love triangle. The book is about the revolution, but the revolution is about emotion and freedom and how the two are absolutely intertwined. And even though it’s about the revolution, it’s also about the individual–really, the individuals–affected by the tumultuous landscape of the time, and created with such a deft hand that I loved every single thing about it.

Your thoughts on DELIRIUM? I know I’m quite a bit behind with this discussion, but I felt like it was one that needed to be had. If you haven’t read this series and you love YA, you’re in for a real treat. But if you haven’t read this series and you read this review, I’m bummed that you’re spoiled for it. Regardless, read it.

Other books I’d recommend:

  • Seraphina – Rachel Hartman
  • Into the Flames – Jessie Sanders
  • Finnikin of the Rock – Melina Marchetta (series)
  • Cinder – Marissa Meyer (series)

As always, add me on Goodreads and see what I’m reading these days!