A letter to Lauren Oliver, Pandemonium (a Book Review)
Dear Lauren Oliver,
Today more than ever dystopian fiction reigns and I think it is because you can hear the drum beat of fear and oppression beating through our land. Beat beat beat, the end is coming its cadence seems to say. Beat beat beat, we are full of fear. Beat beat beat, the economy is
collapsing. Beat beat beat, we are at war and considering more war. I think often of what it must be like growing up as a teen with that constant drum beat as the soundtrack of your life. What is the price of war? What sacrifices does it demand of us? Can you become the very enemy you are trying to bring down? These are all important questions asked by Lena in Pandemonium, questions that we should be asking of ourselves.
Two days ago a young man walked into a high school in Ohio with a gun and killed some of his class mates. The press keeps asking why and the answers are the same as they were the last time it happened: too many guns, too much anger, too much bullying, too much selfishness, too much mental illness. I don’t know the answer, but often when I read books I think about how they have the power to move us and remind us that we are just one part of a bigger story. I think that when we remember this, when we allow ourselves to open up and truly grasp the bigness of the world around us, we develop compassion for one another. We are all struggling to find ourselves. We are all struggling to find a place of peace and comfort and joy. We all want to know that for a moment, we matter somewhere to someone. If we took away our capacity to feel love, would that be the answer? Is it a sickness?
No, love is the answer. To love one another. To care. To look at your fellow human beings and say they are just like me, different in the details but the same at the core. I love how through the two novels Lena slowly realizes this truth and allows herself to be responsible for it.
You write beautifully, the way you can turn a phrase is a beauty unto itself. When Lena stands in the wilds talking about freedom, you understand in your core what freedom truly means. When Lena plunges into the icy water and it rips through the very core of her, you feel an icy dagger stab for a moment at your skin. And when Lena runs, you feel the desperation of what she is running from and sense that perhaps Alex is standing in the corner of your room and you see flashes of him hiding in the shadows. The words come dripping off the page with life and meaning.
What does it mean to be free? I think that is a question we have been asking ourselves as a nation for the last 10+ years? What are you willing to sacrifice for your freedom? But in making those sacrifices, are we truly free? Just as choosing to love means choosing to sometimes have pain, choosing freedom means that we must also choose to suffer the consequences of the choices of others. As much as we may want, there is no cure from our humanity. We will never be free of mistakes or wrong choices. We can never put enough rules into place or tame the human spirit enough and dull the senses to the point where we can not think or feel. And I hope we never get to the place where we want to. There is no cure for the human condition, we must just keep working together to find a way to embrace it and live it fully. We must embrace one another.
I think that every teen and adult should be reading Delirium and Pandemonium and talking about them. I think that we should all take heed of the warning drum beats and make a decision that we will embrace our humanity and learn to live in peace with it, and one another. Great literature does more than entertain, it inspires and challenges and reminds. This is great literature. I have been inspired, I have been challenged, and I have been reminded . . . thank you.
You have done your job well, I have been moved and I will stand on the roof top and say please, please read this book and let it remind you to treasure your freedom to choose who you are and what you think and feel and who you love more than all.
Pandemonium is the sequel to Delirium and is the story of a society in which teens are forced to undergo an operational procedure that alters how they feel. Love is considered a disease, the disease that has brought down mankind and destroyed the past. In this future, society is controlled and devoid of emotion. Perfection of thought and feeling is the goal. And then there is Lena, who meets and falls in love with Alex. There are rumors of a resistance, of people living in “the wilds” who have forsaken the cure. They are called invalids. Delirium and Pandemonium tell the story of Lena and how her eyes slowly open to the truth and realizes that the bill of goods that she has always been sold may be all lies. It is the truly moving story of a girl deciding who she is and what she is going to be, as all teens must. It is well written, belieavable, and thoughtful. If you haven’t read it, you should. 5 out of 5 stars
Lauren Oliver talks about Pandemonium at Harper Teen
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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