I actually love this cover, it's icy blue sky and the feverish girl's face behind that big fat title, it made this book totally appealing to me. And a giant plus was the fact that I wouldn't be embarrassed taking this beauty on the bus, unlike the paperback they'll be issuing in August which makes me think it's one of those heinous child abuse sagas that always top the Tesco's bestsellers lists. Could she look anymore like a 12 year old Lolita? So wrong.
Seventeen year old Lena is counting the days till her next birthday, but it's got nothing to do with getting presents or going to college. Lena lives in a world where love, and it's many related emotions, have been named the one cause of all societies problems. All citizens now undergo a procedure at eighteen which removes their function to feel passion, to fear loneliness and to love, resisters are not tolerated and anti-cure sympathizers are executed. Electrified fences have gone up around the cities and literature and music is severely regulated.
Lena, forever stigmatised by her mother's suicide after three procedures that failed to correct her, cannot wait to have it done and float into the rest of her live with no worries or fears to trouble her. But then she meets a boy called Alex, and she starts to unravel the lies her whole life has been build on.
Despite the rather unrealistic set up (Love illegal? Really? How do you even officially regulate something like that?) Lauren Oliver does set a great scene in the coastal city of Portland, it's a paranoid conspiracy theorist's nightmare (or should that be dream? they do love to be right) it's a city in which all teens have a violently enforced 8:30pm curfew and where the slightest display of an illegal emotion will get you reported or worse. Those cured sort of glide around, not really feeling anything and never overreacting, it's like all the Stepford Wives (and their husbands) are sprinkling ketamine in to all their pies, it's freaking creepy.
"In the end my sister was cured. She came back to me gentle and content, her nails spotless and round, her hair pulled back in a long, thick braid.
Several months later she was pledged to an IT tech, roughly her age, and several weeks after she graduated from college they married, their hands linked loosely under the canopy, both of them staring straight ahead as though at a future of days unmarred by worry or discontent or disagreement, a future of identical days, like a series of neatly blown bubbles."
*Shudder* This is the stuff of nightmares for me, there's another scene later on where Lena overhears raiders, on a city wide sweep for sympathizers, beat her neighbors dog half to death for being too loud; her neighbors don't even blink, and I was thinking THIS IS UNNATURAL, FEEL SAD GODDAMN YOU!
And that was really the biggest problem I had with this story, I just didn't believe this would ever happen. Now I can suspend my disbelief for talking casseroles and shapeshifting goldfish (not that anyone has written these two amazing ideas into their books yet, but they will!) but usually there's magic or mythology involved so thats ok. But this just seems to be bog standard human shittyness deciding to make life utter crap for everyone so we can what? Be more easily controlled? For. What. Purpose?!
And why are they allowing teenagers to run around willy nilly uncured? Teenagers are a hotbed for these kinds of emotions, sure they've segregated the schools into genders but as everyone knows you can send your good-as-pie virginal daughter to the strictest catholic school and she'll still be giving out handjobs behind the bikesheds by the time she hits sixteen.
And Lena! God I really wanted to like her, I did. But ironically her character was somewhat overshadowed by her best friend, the oh-so-amazing best friend Hanna. You know, that best friend character who is always super good looking, super rich and super popular but it ends up being the mousey protagonist who really shines through in the end? Not here, at least not for me. Lena just felt a little flat to me, even when she was realising the depth of her feelings for Alex (who is rather dreamy but not in that stomach flipping hot flushy way that marks all great love interests). The only time she really felt real was with Hanna. I kind of hoped that it turned out Hanna was in love with Lena, I certainly believed it was the case for the first half of the book, but nope nothing so interesting.
So yeah, this book didn't light my world on fire and the shockingly abrupt ending just felt like it happened for no good reason, but it was still better then Matched by Ally Condie (which has pretty much the exact same set up as this book) which actively annoyed me.