In this dystopian world, love is a disease and all the people are cured of it when they turn eighteen. Lena is seventeen, only weeks away from the operation that will prevent her from “amor deliria nervosa”, and looking forward to it…when she falls in love with an “Invalid”1. I’m not going to give away the actual ending, in case there are teens/tweens still looking forward to all the plot twists; for the good guessers out there, however: yes. She does. This book ends up in something of a cliffhanger, as it’s the first of a trilogy or something to that effect, so we don’t yet know the real ending.
I do like dystopian novels, though I’d just as soon not actually live in the societies! This one was decently written: I can envision the houses and neighborhoods through which the characters move. She explored some of the ramifications of the surgery to ‘cure’ love: it cures not only romantic/sexual love, but love between family members and enjoyment of pleasurable things generally–dancing and singing, playing and all such things. The fact that it cures also negative emotions isn’t much of a consolation; the adult characters who’ve successfully gone through the operation to cure love all seem flattened emotionally, not reacting strongly to anything they encounter. I appreciated Oliver beginning chapters with quotes from various works common in this future world; it gave a bit of background to the society without interrupting the prose within the chapters.
On the down side, I didn’t quite buy the plot. (All standard disclaimers apply, starting with “I’m not part of the target demographic.”) The heroine struck me as a self-centered, needy and helpless girl; first person narratives are, of course, all about the protagonist’s inner feelings, but Lena seemed to serve no purpose other than to hang off Alex’s arm and gaze up at him, dewily adoring and helpless in the Wilds without him. There was not quite enough world building here for my own tastes, although since this is the first of a trilogy/series, we may get more description of the world and society in future novels. I wasn’t quite sure whether this was supposed to be set in the future–Oliver didn’t specify when it was set–but it fits all the other dystopian science fiction I’ve read, so I’ll just leave it as uncertain time. The fact that I’m still not sure whether “Invalid”, the term for the ‘uncured’ people roaming the wilds, means “someone incapacitated by illness” or “without basis in truth or reality”, though I suspect the former.
Hopefully, dystopian romances have become the new fad in YA literature, superseding supernatural romances. They both may have the same elements of “we are prevented from joining in sweetest love by forces outside our control” but there may be a wider variety of dystopias than supernatural creatures. I know that the whole point of romance novels is that there IS someone to whom the protagonist may become romantically attached, but I just hope that more modern novels of this type have strong self-determined heroines capable of building lives for themselves; men are nice to have around, mind, but wilting across the arm of the nearest Strong Man2 is not a good message to send to impressionable teens. Or impressionable anyone.
1someone who lives outside the boundaries of the controlled civilized society within which Lena lives, and who hasn’t had the operation to prevent love.
2with apologies to the GLBT readers out there