Before I begin, let me start by warning anyone who has placed this book on their To-Read Shelf: Do not plan on accomplishing anything productive for approximately 24 hours after starting the book. You have been warned. And for anyone who did not read this warning in time, you are more than welcome to join my sleep-deprived sob fest. If only I knew what I was getting myself into when I first picked up the book.
For the past sixty-four years, love was considered a disease which impaired reason and posed a threat to society. A cure was established to protect United States citizens from the debilitating effects of the illness. At the age of 18, each person is required to undergo a procedure, permanently curing them from the sickness. The story follows 18-year-old Lena Haloway, who grew up in Portland, Maine with her aunt and uncle. Lena anxiously counts down the days until her procedure, anticipating the moment she can join the other "cureds" with excitement. This excitement quickly fades as Lena herself succumbs to the disease, becoming hopelessly entangled in a forbidden romance.
I have to admire Oliver for the creative spin she placed on American society when establishing this dystopian world. She managed to create a plausible universe in which love had been almost completely eradicated. I felt a pang of sorrow each time Oliver highlighted the emotionless shell of a community in which parents exhibited no compassion for their children and married couples exchanged no signs of affection for one another. Such examples reveal the underlying theme: a life without love is not worth living.
More importantly, Oliver's writing was flawless. She vividly described each scene, allowing readers to visualise each event as it occurred. Through her writing, Oliver also evokes a vast array of emotions from her readers. When Lena is enraged, readers are fuming. When she breaks down, crying hysterically, readers are right there, sobbing along with her. Her feelings of love, betrayal, and loss transcend all boundaries, lodging themselves in the hearts of readers around the world.
Lena's characterization, although less than stellar at times, does have its perks. Above all, Lena treasures her family and friends. She is terrified at the thought of losing her best friend, Hana, after her procedure. Lena, like the rest of society, was convinced that love was dangerous and potentially life threatening. After experiencing the effects of the disease firsthand, she comes to the startling realization that love is harmless. Lena was determined to discover the truth, no matter how heartbreaking the truth may be.
On the other hand, Lena is not the epitome of perfection - no properly characterized protagonist should be. She struggles to move on from her past, particularly her mother's suicide. Her mother gave up her life for the ones she loved, and Lena is more than willing to do the same. But she continues to visualize her mother leaping from a cliff and slowly falling into the tumultuous waters below (a rather frequently mentioned event throughout the book). Additionally, Lena compares herself to a princess who is waiting for her prince to save her. Yes, she outright states this comparison and is not ashamed to do so. Unfortunately, the concept of a damsel in distress does not appeal to the majority of teens in this day and age, myself included. They would prefer to read about a strong, independent, female protagonist who does not rely on others to come to her rescue. I think we've all outgrown Disney movies at this point.
Lastly, there was the slightly overwhelming ending that left me shaking and speechless. My mother was only slightly concerned when she found me sitting on the floor, rocking back and forth and suffering from mild shock. To avoid giving away the ending, let's just say it was ... unexpected. Life changing. Devastating. Shall I continue, or let you form your own opinion?"Love, the deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don't."