Book Review: Panic by Lauren Oliver

I’ve loved everything Lauren Oliver has written so far, I’d list her as one of my favourite YA authors and anything she publishes is a must read. But I suppose there’s a likelihood that eventually there’s going to be one book from an author you expect so much from which doesn’t quite live up to your expectations and sadly, Panic was that book.

Don’t get me wrong. This is far from a terrible book. The premise is fascinating and took me by surprise a little as I was fully expecting a dystopian/Hunger Games type of story. In fact, Panic is very contemporary in setting. Based in Carp-a run down town in modern day America-where life is tough and prospects low for the young residents. Panic is the name of a game devised as both an alleviation to boredom and the chance of escape to better things. The idea is that all high school students donate to a prize pot throughout the year, then in summer the game opens to those who’ve just completed their final year. Through a series of increasingly dangerous and terrifying challenges, competitors must avoid elimination with the last person taking the entire prize of around $60,000.

It could have been so good. Sadly though, it lacked a lot of atmosphere, which in turn made the whole concept unbelievable. I’m more than willing to believe that everyday teens could be so disillusioned they’d risk their lives for a chance to win, but Lauren Oliver didn’t manage to convince me in this book and I ended up thinking these were just reckless idiots rather than the seriously desperate.

The story is told in alternating chapters by Heather and Dodge and I failed to connect with either of them. I couldn’t really of cared less who won by the end. Of the two, I could understand Dodge’s reasons for playing the game more than Heather’s. I really struggled with why she’d do this, being the only one to watch out for her supposedly beloved younger sister. Very surprisingly, the romance isn’t between the two main characters, so thumbs up to the unpredictability of that! Sadly though, the two romances involved were pretty unromantic and lacked any real chemistry. I think I’d have preferred predictable after all.

I did find it very readable and was invested enough to want to keep going. Lauren Oliver’s writing is as good as ever in that regard. I was just really disappointed by the lack of tension…for this book to really work it should have been crackling off the pages. I’m afraid I was unconvinced and disappointed this time.

2.5

Published by Hodder (UK) March 2014

Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

*** This is a review of the second book in a series. If You haven’t read Delirium you might want to look away NOW ***

Love, the deadliest of all deadly things. It kills you when you have it. And when you don’t.

I’m pushing aside the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school,
push,
push,
push,
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and flame.

Pandemonium is a poignant, explosive, recklessly romantic and utterly heartbreaking novel. Like Delirium, the first in the compelling trilogy, it will take you to the very edge. That’s all you need to know. We’ll let Lena do the rest of the talking . . .(From Amazon.co.uk)

One thing’s for certain, Lauren Oliver knows how to leave a reader desperate for more. When I read Delirium over a year ago I couldn’t believe I’d have a whole twelve months to wait for the next instalment. THAT ending! How could she do that? There was little doubt I’d be getting a hold of a copy as soon as I could and I almost jumped for joy when my pre-order landed on my door mat a few days early last week. I ditched everything else in my TBR and dived straight in.

Pandemonium is a book of two parts told in alternating chapters titled Then and Now. Then picks up almost immediatly where Delerium left off and follows Lena’s story as she faces life in the wilds. Now is six months later when she’s become part of the resistence and finds herself undercover in New York. Normally when a book is split between times like this I have a favourite period, but in Pandemonium each one is equally as brilliant.

It was fascinating to discover The Wilds beyond the fence we heard so much about in Delirium and we’re introduced to some interesting new characters, Raven and Tack. Life in the Wilds is brutal, it’s a fight against the elements to survive but what stands out in these sections is the belief and care in others the people have.They look out for each other, it’s all about surviving together and they embrace their differences. In stark contrast we also get a glimpse into a political pro-cure organistation Deliria Free America (DFA) who are sterile, cold and calculating.

Pandemonium is far edgier and action packed than Delirium. Lena has come so far from the girl she was back then, Lauren Oliver has created and developed this character with intricate detail and care. There’s also a new boy on the scene too, Julian, Lena’s exact opposite and head of the DFA youth movement. Throwing them together the way Oliver does was ingenious, creating masses of tension. As much as I like him, he’s no Alex though. And that’s as much as I’ll say about that.

I grabbed every available moment I could to read this book and got through it in one day. In a lot of ways I liked it more than Delirium, I liked the pace and the action which I found gripping. It shouldn’t have been a surprise at all to get to the end of Pandemonium and be slapped with another gut wrenching ‘omg’ cliffhanger. I don’t know whether to love or hate Lauren Oliver for doing this again! Pandemonium is a cracking sequel that lived up to the anticipation I’d placed on it and fans of Delirium won’t be disappointed.

Published by Hodder & Stroughton  March 2012 (UK)

Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love — the deliria — blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy. 

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love (From Goodreads.com)

Lauren Oliver’s Delirium was top of my highly anticipated reads of 2011 after falling in love with her debut novel, Before I Fall.  While I ended up not loving Delirium quite as much, I did really like the book and the ideas behind it.
The idea of Love being recognised as an illness or disease is fascinating. Anyone who has ever been in love will recognise and relate to the symptoms described and agree that it can indeed feel like a sickness. Anyone who has ever had there heart broken will find themselves wondering for just a second, if life would be easier without such overwhelming feelings.  But the cure takes the life out of people, the very things that make them human and passion for anything is irradiated, love for children and families becomes nothing more than an obligation.  I know I’d rather take the pain and still experience the good than loose my ability to love. The half people, known as cureds, scare the life out of me and are truly sinister.
I liked Lena immediately. She’s distinctly average and desperate to be normal. She’s terrified of being like her Mother who succumbed the Deliria despite several attempts at a cure and can’t wait to have the procedure herself. She’s horrified by some of the feelings she has and tries desperately to quell them, hiding her appreciation of things as simple as the beauty of the sunset or being drawn to certain colours, which are frowned upon. Her best friend Hanna appears to be the one who’s going to rebel and Lena struggles to understand it. But when Lena meets Alex, he encourages her to see beyond the lies fed to her by the government and as she discovers some shocking truths, she’s forced to acknowledge that they are wrong. I loved how Lena began to slowly question her world and the inner turmoil she experienced between wanting to be normal and become ‘cured’ and knowing that actually this may not be right after all. She’s no kick ass heroine, being nervous, weak and conformist to begin with and her development throughout the book is a real joy. Even as she turns into a fighter, she can’t quite believe this is she. I love how the ordinary and small does something extraordinary and huge and found it pretty inspirational.
Lauren Oliver’s writing throughout the book is stunning. It ranges from stark and desolate to beautifully poetic. I love her way with words and her writing is always a joy to read. I did find Delirium a little slow to start with and while I was enjoying it, it wasn’t until around half way through that I became completely hooked.  While I found the idea’s behind the book fascinating and could actually imagine them happening, I was left a little disappointed by the world building surrounding Lena and at times thought it wasn’t as believable as it could have been. It seemed a little too easy for rules to be flaunted and while the emotionally void ‘Cureds’ sent chills down my spine, I didn’t think the guards and Regulators who police Lena’s world were nearly menacing enough.  I also struggled to believe for the first three quarters of the book that no-one had actually rebelled before, however along with Lena we find out there’s much the government wants to keep quiet about that and I think we’re going to find out more of these people in the second part of the series.
What I wasn’t prepared for though was the ending, where Lauren Oliver literally ripped my heart out. I was reading on a bus, in public and audibly gasped making the woman next to me jump.  It’s a very brave step by Oliver and in the last few pages she turns around your previous expectations for the series. While very sad, it’s a little exciting, as now I have absolutely no idea where things will go and it makes sure I’ll be following Lena’s story into the next book.

Overall Delirium was a good read. The ideas are interesting and thought provoking while Lena is a character easy to relate to and care for. While I wasn’t as blown away as I hoped I’d be it leaves me with high hopes for the rest of the series. Delirium is beautifully written and while the beginning was a little slow moving the powerful and shocking ending more than makes up for it.

Book Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

They say that when you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that’s not how it happened for me

Sam Kingston is dead. Except she isn’t.

On a rainy February night, eighteen-year-old Sam is killed in a horrific car crash. But then the impossible happens: she wakes up in her own bed, on the morning of the day that she died.

Forced to live over and over the last day of her life the drive to school, skipping class, the fateful party she desperately struggles to alter the outcome, but every morning she wakes up on the day of the crash.

This is a story of a girl who dies young, but in the process learns how to live. And who falls in love… a little too late.

BEFORE I FALL is a brave and complex novel about the territory between life and death. As astonishing as The Lovely Bones and as luminous as Jenny Downham s Before I Die, it will make you want to live every day as if it were your last. (from Amazon.co.uk)

There was such a huge buzz about this book, I was really excited to get started and settled down almost immediately with it. I was also a little bit worried. Had I set such a huge expectation against it after the reams of glowing reviews that I was going to be disappointed? Not a chance! This is a real, once every now and then, will completely blow you away book.

Sam isn’t immediately likable. She’s one of the popular girls, part of a group who sneer at and bully the classmates who, in their opinion, fall below them on the social ladder. Worse is that while not the leader or instigator, she’s a follower, and the followers are the ones who give the leader the power to carry on. But Sam wants to keep her popularity, so although she feels uncomfortable about things at times, she ignores this.

Sam’s first day, the day the accident happens, isn’t anything special really. It’s Cupid Day and roses are given out at school, meaning it’s a popularity contest to see who gets the most roses. This was an ingenious way to subtly introduce the complexities of school relationships and the hierarchy that exists within them as well as the importance of being popular, fitting in and the torture it can be when you don’t. Being from the UK the idea of Cupid Day intrigued me and I have to say, I’m glad it’s not something we did at school (only getting a Valentine from your mum was bad enough). The first fifty pages are a detailed description of a fairly normal and uneventful day, and without the blurb on the back or fantastic prologue you would be forgiven for thinking this was just a typical high school story. It isn’t until Sam starts reliving the day over and over that you realise how important those details in the first section actually are as they begin to intricately weave in and out of the story.

This becomes an incredibly thought provoking book. How much do our actions, no matter how mundane and throwaway they are, have on a bigger picture? Sam begins to realise that there’s a knock on effect for everything she does. The character development is fantastic as she faces each day with a changing attitude. With a first person narrative, I felt like I was right inside Sam’s head and really understood her, even when I didn’t agree with her. But its not just Sam’s character that grows throughout the book, that of her friends and peers do too, as we see them living the same day in different perspectives. Lauren Oliver injects many teen issues throughout, and treats them with great sympathy and understanding. A picture is slowly built up of a few different characters and their problems, which through Sam become interlinked. I also adored the romance too within the book, which was beautiful, tender and heartrending.

Before I Fall is truly a brilliant book. I really did have the feeling that I was reading something very special. Even though I knew the premise, I had no idea how things were going to end. Every page brings something new, is completely unpredictable and had me gripped. I’ve read a few reviews that say this book would make a brilliant movie, and I have to agree. It’s so visual I could picture it just reading. One thing I’m sure is that Lauren Oliver’s debut novel is going to be HUGE. This is so much more than a teen high school book, and is a perfect crossover book for adults too. It’s a very clever story of what ifs, redemption, appreciating what you have and discovering who you really are, even when it seems like it’s too late. I can’t imagine anyone not falling completely in love with Before I Fall and being so moved your still thinking about it days after finishing. The last time I was so completely blown away by a book was The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This is my Book of the year so far by a million miles, and really will take some beating!