Tag Archives: Lauren Oliver

“Pandemonium” by Lauren Oliver

Title: Pandemonium
Author: Lauren Oliver
Series: Delirium, #2
ISBN: 9780061978067
Pages: 384
Release date: March 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Dystopian fiction; young adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 4 out of 5

Warning: This review contains spoilers for Pandemonium’s prequel, Delirium. For more on that book, check out my enthusiastic review.

Alex is gone. He was gunned down, caught in flames, unable to cross into the Wilds with Lena, and now she’s on her own. Dehydrated, thirsty, and injured, she’s on the edge of defeat when she’s rescued by a small band of those whom she used to fear: Invalids.

As Lena recovers, she quickly learns how to survive in this new world—one where the memory of Alex constantly haunts her. It’s not long before she has bigger things to think about, though; the resisters who have taken in Lena begin plotting their next mission, and Lena wants in.

Each chapter alternates between “then” and “now,” and the juxtaposition emphasizes how Lena evolves and hardens. In a world where love is a disease, hatred is a tempting alternative. In the fraught months after losing Alex, Lena explains:

It will feed you and at the same time turn you to rot. It is hard and deep and angular, a system of blockades. It is everything and total. Hatred is a high tower. In the Wilds, I start to build, and to climb.

She’s no longer a dewy-eyed teen but a lean mean rager against the machine. But as she dives deeper in the cult-like world of the Resistance, she finds a world that is threatening in new and unexpected ways. Her new friends aren’t as friendly as they may seem, and Lena finds herself in deeper and deeper trouble.

Despite losing Alex—in fact, because of it—the idea of a world without love is impossible. But what will Lena do when she’s confronted with a new love interest? And what will happen when her old and new worlds collide?

I loved Delirium—it was one of my favorite books in 2011. I read a review copy of the first book, and had to wait more than a year for the next installment—as my appreciation for Delirium deepened and my hopes for Pandemonium rose perhaps too high. The buzz around its release didn’t help; School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews both gave Pandemonium a starred review, with Kirkus naming it one of the best books of the year. So, with all of the build-up, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I wasn’t crazy about the second book.

Part of what appealed to me about Delirium was Oliver’s creativity—the very concept of love as a disease, and how that would affect society. But in the second book, the conceit began wearing thin. Girl cannot live on idea alone. That means Oliver needs to rely on the strength of her characters and plot—and there were some definite misses for me there.

The romance between Lena and the new man, Julian, seems a little contrived. I suppose you need a love interest in a book about the danger and power of love, but it just didn’t work for me.  Their romance is rushed—they are pushed together in prison—and their “love” is a hothouse flower. In fact, Oliver propagates traditional romance-novel ideas of love. Sure, there are no long walks together on the beach in the Wilds, but love isn’t just butterflies in the stomach; it’s a commitment. As in, remember Alex?

As Farrah at I Eat Words points out: “I thought it was quite unnecessary to create a love triangle type of thing. Oliver’s writing is strong, the plot is strong, and both Alex and Lena are strong. Why throw this in? It felt cheap.” Farrah also points out the similarity of the prison sequence to V for Vendetta—a very good point.

Speaking of borrowing a bit too heavily from other books… I was distracted by the many traces of Hunger Games: navigating a love triangle, resisting a dystopian world, finding oneself to be a pawn of the Resistance, even hiding out in the sewer. Thanks, but I already read Mockingjay. Does Oliver think that’s what all readers are looking for in YA, or was it just a horrible coincidence?

Despite these weaknesses, Pandemonium did not lack suspense. The twists themselves are not surprises—it would have been disappointing if they hadn’t happened, since that is the direction clearly set up in the first book. But the ways in which these twists are presented are exciting. Oliver cleverly sets up one surprise within another; you’re so focused on the first development that you’re off-guard with the second, bigger twist—great timing.

As in the first book, Oliver’s prose is fantastic. She avoids clichés in her writing (even if she succumbs to clichéd ideas of love), and her dialogue feels fresh and natural. She includes poetic descriptions and sensory details that heighten the emotion of a given scene, as when Lena finds herself on the run:

On our left, just off the highway, is the city: billboards and dismantled streetlights and ugly apartment buildings with purple-gray faces, bruised complexions turned toward the horizon.

When I finished Delirium, I couldn’t stop thinking about this world and its characters. I pre-ordered Pandemonium about a year in advance, and obviously had high expectations. While I enjoyed the book, it didn’t blow my mind. I’m curious to read Requiem, the final book in the series, but it’s not killing me. It must be hard to write a sequel to such a popular book.

Worth noting: Reading for Sanity points out that this book contains a good bit of profanity, if that sort of things bothers you.

Don’t just take my word for it! Buy Pandemonium from an independent bookstore or Amazon (Kindle version is available).

Top Ten Surprise Endings

This week, I’m writing about the top ten book endings that left me with my mouth hanging open–because of a cliffhanger, because the ending was mindblowing, and so on.

Because of my reading preferences, I’m not often left hanging off cliffs; I prefer books that build and allow me to solve mysteries before we reach the conclusion. But there have been a few books that pleasantly surprise me with the ending.

These books were skillfully crafted and emotionally harrowing. They are the kind of books you immediately want to read again, and, in many cases, will instantly cause an addiction to that series or author.

I don’t want to give anything away or spoil it for you, so I won’t provide too much detail. Without further ado, here’s the list!

1. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
2. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
3. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
4. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
5. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
7. Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
8. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
9. The House of Sand of Fog by Andre Dubus III
10. The Thousandfold Thought by R. Scott Bakker

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

Top Ten Tough Topics Tackled in Literature

This week, I’m highlighting some of my favorite works of fiction that address ten difficult social, cultural, and emotional issues. I’m sure I could think of many more books if I tried–“tough topics” are kind of my thing.

10. Bullying
Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall is an excellent story about one girl who has the chance to change her life–in seven days. Oliver manages to take a self-centered bully and make her a completely sympathetic character by the end.

And I’ve mentioned before how much I love Daphne’s Book by Mary Downing Hahn; Hahn’s story of two girls forming an unlikely friendship is timeless.

9. Autism
Two books about autistic boys, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier, take very unique views of what an autistic child’s world looks like, and both are very convincing in their own ways. Not much is known about autism, but these books are a reminder that “developmental” issues and genius are relative.

8. September 11, 2001
I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer in college, and it has stuck with me through the years. Oskar is an intrepid and smart narrator, and his efforts to cope with the loss of his father in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center are heartwarming and inspiring–and a tearjerker.

7. Poverty
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls manages to recount her rough childhood while avoiding any trace of self-pity. This book is a little dark at times, but I highly recommend it.

6. Aging
Anne Tyler effortlessly captures the minor details of a person that accumulate into who he or she is in her novels, and she does not fail me in Noah’s Compass. Liam, the main character, is confronted with an inevitable slide into old age, but the way he deals with it is charming and humorous.

Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway is, of course, a classic tale of aging. The old man faces his greatest challenge, and summons the courage to triumph over it despite his acknowledged weaknesses.

Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis is a rather unconventional entry for this category, but I found the book’s reverse-chronological order a fascinating study of memory and one man’s backward look on his life.

5. Racism
Often contested for its handling of race and slavery, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is a humorous and satirical take on pre-Civil War society along the Mississippi River.

For a more modern exploration of African-American identity, struggles with racism, and the fight for civil rights, W. Ralph Eubanks’s Ever Is a Long Time is a fascinating read.

4. Addiction
I also mentioned recently that Go Ask Alice is one of my favorite books for its raw and unrelenting take on the rebellious life of a girl in the 1960s. It was recommended to a friend of mine going through rehab, and I can see why; the narrator’s battle with addiction feels very real in this fictionalized diary.

Addiction is just one of many serious topics to which Andre Dubus III turns his artistic genius in The House of Sand and Fog. Kathy, one of the main characters, finds herself returning to the addiction from which she had recently emerged when everything in her life seems to crumble. Yet Kathy inspires a great deal of empathy and even respect from her readers–a difficult but praiseworthy feat by Dubus.

3. Abduction
As abductions of young women sweep headlines–Jaycee Dugard‘s story is one of many in the past few years–I think we all crave insight into why such tragedies happen and how victims can survive them. And Emma Donoghue certainly delivers in Room, one of my favorite books ever.

But even fifteen years ago, I was fascinated with abduction stories. Caroline B. Cooney’s smart and courageous main character in The Face on the Milk Carton made a strong impression on me as a young reader–whenever I was scared that I, too, would be swept up by strangers (hey, I was only 11!), I just remembered how cool and level-headed Janie managed to be.

2. Rape
Push by Sapphire may now be considered a classic story of rape and incest. Sapphire handles these topics very well, pushing the reader right to the edge with graphic images and then pulling him or her back with Precious’s admirable determination and optimistic outlook.

Another book about the devastating effects of rape that left a strong impression on me is We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates. Oates’s prose meanders at times–I remember sighing in frustration as she spends an entire chapter chronicling the contents of the family’s cluttered hall–but her attention to detail pays off as she describes that family’s hurt and rage at the violence that struck once and left an indelible mark.

1. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
There are several books about war and PTSD that immediately come to mind when I think about masterful attempts to address difficult subjects. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller are, of course, classics in this field. But more recently, War by Sebastian Junger and The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli have also proved to be stunning and delicate glimpses of the lasting effects of conflict.

What about you–what books do you think have handled difficult issues well?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

Top Ten Required Books for School

This week, I set out to highlight the top ten books that I believe should be required reading for teens. But I think that making something required makes it seem like work, and as a result many kids don’t understand why a required book is so good. So instead, I want to focus upon books I think should be introduced to kids that usually aren’t.

This list was a bit of a challenge for me because I only went to public school for one year, so I had a little help from Jack!

So, to start it off…
10. Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
Jack: “Few books will shatter expectations and inspire critical thinking than this account of history. You may not agree with everything in the book, but it’s a fascinating and challenging new perspective.”

9. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Jack: “Easily accessible to high school students, this story first seems like a mix of superhero and detective genres. But as the story unfolds, it questions the morality of heroism itself and presents a compelling story in a unique medium.”

8. Daphne’s Book by Mary Downing Hahn
Melody: “This book is technically for middle-school students, but it’s one of my favorite books ever. I recommend it for reluctant female readers who are looking for an unexpected and heartwarming story.”

7. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Jack: “Based on the disastrous Everest expedition of 1996, this narrative presents human survival in the most extreme conditions on earth.”

6. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Melody: “This book is about as far from my previous suggestion as you can get. Drugs, sex, madness… this one has it all. Told from the perspective of a teenage girl in the 1960s, Go Ask Alice is heartbreaking and revealing in its depiction of one girl’s rebellion.”

5. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Jack: “One man’s fight to survive in a world overrun by vampires becomes a struggle to remember what it means to be human.”

Melody: “You forgot to mention that is MUCH better than the movie!”

4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Melody: “This is dystopic literature at its finest. It’s quite gritty and dark, but ultimately hopeful.”

3. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Melody: “I only read this a few years ago, but it was a classic with every boy I knew growing up. Ender’s story is fascinating; you will devour this book very quickly!”

2. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Melody: “Lauren Oliver is now one of my favorite authors; after finishing Delirium, I read Before I Fall, and I highly recommend both to readers of all ages! (Particularly women.)”

1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Melody: “The Hobbit was nearly my favorite book of 2010. It’s entertaining and funny, and it’s also a good introduction to classics; Tolkien was a student of literature from the Middle Ages, and he does a marvelous job weaving this epic narrative.”

What about you–what were your favorites in school?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!