From contemporary “dead girl” books to dystopian YA novels to true middle grade stories, Lauren Oliver has you covered. While Lauren Oliver often varies the genre in which she writes, one thing stays constant—her solid characterization and portrayal of friendships.
Lauren Oliver made her debut with Before I Fall, a contemporary “dead girl” book in which the popular mean girl heroine Sam dies and relives the last day of her life seven times. During this week-long day, she must figure out why she died and how to redeem herself and her friends for their past behavior through different choices throughout the day.
I find that many books featuring “popular” characters fall into the trap of one-dimensional characterization. This isn’t one of them. Rather than being painted as a group of vapid, airheaded bitches, Oliver fleshes out her group of popular mean girls with non-cliché vulnerability and intense loyalty to one another. Their personality flaws and Oliver’s portrayal of their friendships made them compelling, interesting characters to read about.
Despite a lot of positive endorsement, I was hesitant to start the Delirium books. Like a majority of the publishing industry, I often felt exhausted by the very thought of reading another dystopian novel in the wake of The Hunger Games-inspired boom. I pushed those feelings aside to read this trilogy, and I’m glad I did.
Protagonist Lena lives in an alternative dystopian version of the United States in which love—amor deliria nervosa—is considered to be a dangerous, highly contagious disease. When teenagers hit the age eighteen, they are “cured” by a procedure that seems to involve some sort of invasive brain surgery. Lena can’t wait to be cured and eliminate the talk surrounding her family—until she meets Alex, who challenges everything she thinks she knows about her world.
Delirium itself is a seriously slow build with an explosive ending that made me want the second book like WOAH. I appreciated that each book was told in a slightly different way—Delirium is from Lena’s present point of view, Pandemonium alternates between Lena’s past and present life, and Requiem is told from both Lena’s and her best friend Hana’s point of view. I appreciated the variety in storytelling Oliver brought to the table in her dystopian trilogy. It kept the story fresh and moving.
What impressed me the most about this trilogy is that it is not just romantic love, but also love between friends and love within a family unit. Arguably, the most important relationship in the series is the friendship between Lena and her best friend Hana. Hana’s betrayal of Lena and Alex is what truly sets the action of the series in motion. It was only right that Lena and Hana’s relationship was a major focus in the last book, rather than one of Lena’s romantic entanglements.
Liesl & Po, Oliver’s first foray into middle grade, is a darkly whimsical story about a lonely girl trying to deal with the loss of her father. With the help of a genderless shade named Po and an equally lonely boy named Will, Liesl is able to make peace with her father’s deal and begin to move on with her life.
While I didn’t connect to the Alice in Wonderland-esque The Spindlers, I must say Oliver gives a similar treatment to the book. Only Liza’s tumultuous friendship with a giant rat companion (I blame the giant talking animal for my disconnect with the book) enables her to save her little brother from the giant horrifying spiderlike beings called the Spindlers.
I’m looking forward to reading two new Oliver works next year—Panic, a young adult book about teens in their senior year playing a game of fear and excitement will be out March 2014, and her adult debut Room will follow in the fall.