Tuesday, November 8, 2011

BOOK BATTLE: Lauren Oliver's Delirium vs. Ally Condie's Matched

Welcome to our first Book Battle! Sometimes book plots are SOOO similar that comparison is inevitable, so we thought we'd see how these two romantic dystopias hold up in a head-to-head fight. So, let the battle begin...

First Up: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

In the future, love is considered a disease and teenagers are given a government-mandated "cure" at the age of eighteen. Just before their eighteenth birthday, teens also undergo evaluations to determine their future careers and spouses. Lena doesn't want to end up like her mother and can't wait to get the cure. But then—just months before her procedure—Lena meets Alex, a free-spirited young man who challenges her to question her beliefs.

Tracy's Thoughts:
This book grabbed me right away. In fact, I was avid to read it from the moment I learned Oliver's second book (after the fabulous Before I Fall) was in the works. And for the first several chapters, I was certain that I was going to love everything about it. But for some reason... I didn't.

Don't get me wrong. There are lots of things to love here. First, the writing is gorgeous. Oliver has a very special way with words and is able to create a scene like nobody's business. The sensory detail alone is enough to have me pick up everything and anything she cares to write. Take the following excerpt from Chapter Two:

    The smell of oranges has always reminded me of funerals. On the morning of my evaluation it is the smell that wakes me up. I look at the clock on the bedside table. It's six o'clock.                

   The light is gray, the sunlight just strengthening along the wall of the bedroom I share with both of my cousin Marcia's children. Grace, the younger one, is crouched on her twin bed, already dressed, watching me. She has a whole orange in one hand. She is trying to gnaw on it, like an apple, with her little-kid teeth. My stomach twists, and I have to close my eyes again to keep from remembering the hot, scratchy dress I was forced to wear when my mother died; to keep from remembering the murmur of voices, a large, rough hand passing me orange after orange to suck on, so I would stay quiet. At the funeral I ate four oranges, section by section, and when I was left with only a pile of peelings heaped on my lap I began to suck on those, the bitter taste of the pith helping to keep the tears away.         

   I open my eyes and Gracie leans forward, the orange cupped in her outstretched palm.         

   "No, Gracie." I push off my covers and stand up. My stomach is clenching and unclenching like a fist. "And you're not supposed to eat the peel, you know."         

   She continues blinking up at me with her big gray eyes, not saying anything. I sigh and sit down next to her. "Here," I say, and show her how to peel the orange using her nail, unwinding bright orange curls and dropping them in her lap, the whole time trying to hold my breath against the smell. She watches me in silence. When I'm finished she holds the orange, now unpeeled, in both hands, as though it's a glass ball and she's worried about breaking it.         

   I nudge her. "Go ahead. Eat now."
I also liked the early characterization of Lena. She isn't rebellious and opinionated; instead she is scared and vulnerable. It was a nice change to meet a dystopian heroine who isn't immediately strong and sure of herself but must develop those qualities across the course of the novel. Which leads to my first complaint... Lena's change of heart was much too sudden, and I found her character development lacking. Also, the relationship with Alex seemed rushed to me. One moment she was nervous of him and what her feelings for him meant for her sanity... then she's all in. You know those annoying montages in movies that are used to indicate the passage of time? Well, that is how much of the Lena/Alex relationship is conveyed. Basically, all the good stuff—the meat of their relationship—gets montage treatment. So I never fully bought into their relationship, which is key to the story and Lena's own development.

My major complaint, though, is the world building. The details of Lena's world felt far too nebulous. A fuller, more developed world would've grounded the story and created a more realistic feel. Instead, Delirium read like a very well written—but exceptionally long—prequel. As a stand alone novel, it doesn't really work. Though, due to the high-drama, cliffhanger ending (seriously, I gave serious thought to hurling my book at the wall in frustration!), I will probably give book two (Pandemonium, 3/6/2012) a shot despite my disappointment in the trilogy's beginning.


The Challenger: Matched by Ally Condie

In the future, the Society officials calculate all the data to determine each citizen's perfect life. They monitor your food intake, select your ideal job, and find your perfect Match. Cassia has always trusted the Society, and when the screen at the Matching Banquet identifies her ideal mate as Xander Carrow—her best friend—she knows her future with him will be a happy one. But then she discovers that a glitch in the system also selected another Match for her: Ky Markham, a quiet, intense boy who remains on the fringe of her group of friends. Now, aware that her Society's decisions aren't as perfects as she always believed, Cassia is forced to examine the the world she lives in and the future she wants more closely.

Tracy's Thoughts:
First off... Ally Condie's prose doesn't pack the same punch as Oliver's writing, but it has a lyrical, almost hypnotic flow that kept me turning the pages eagerly. The world-building is amazing and wholly convincing. There's not a lot of background about how the Society came to be, but I expect more details to come later in the trilogy. There are many similarities to Lois Lowry's The Giver, but Condie's world thrums with a nervous, subtly terrifying energy all its own. The slightly sinister officials, the strictly organized activities, even the machines used to dispose of waste—it all works together beautifully to ground the story and create a background in which the novel's plot makes sense. The characters, too, are much more developed than those in Delirium. I was captivated by Cassia's relationship with her family, especially her grandfather and brother Bram. Cassia's evolution from a happy, obedient citizen to one who questions, doubts, and—ultimately—rebels was believable and enthralling.

Unfortunately, I did think that the love story that is the impetus for this change was a little lacking. Of course, given the strict monitoring and control of their world, it would be impossible for Cassia and Ky's relationship to follow a familiar path. This makes for some leisurely pacing, but at least the story doesn't feel rushed in any way. I found both characters intriguing and look forward to catching up with them again in Crossed, in which I fully expect the action to escalate. (Library copies are on order!)

Final Scores:
Delirium by Lauren Oliver Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Matched by Ally Condie: 3.5/5 Stars   BOOK BATTLE WINNER!!!!!

Post-game Questions:
1. Tell me, have you read either of these titles yet? Do you agree with my verdict, or did you have a different reaction?

2. So I wasn't quite satisfied with Delirium, but still plan to check out the second book in the series. Having invested the time in Book One, I want to know what is next for the characters. My question is... How many chances are you willing to give a series before giving up altogether? Does anyone but me feel a compulsive need to finish a series—even if it's not exactly to your taste—once you've started?

3. Okay... now we have to talk cover art. IMO, both books are gorgeous—probably two of the most memorable YA covers I've seen in a while. What do you think? What recent YA cover art sticks out to you?

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