In Lena's world, love is a disease. Everyone is cured through a medical procedure at the age of 18, at which time they are also matched with their spouse. It is a very safe and predictable life inside the closed borders of the United States. But there is a bit of darkness lurking behind Lena's sunny exterior - her mother was uncured though she had the procedure 3 times and in the end her disease killed her. Lena is afraid that whatever was wrong with her mother may affect her, and she cannot wait until she can have her procedure. Then, predictably, she meets a boy named Alex to whom she is immediately drawn. As she gets to know him more, Lena begins to unravel the web of lies she has been taught for her whole life.
A world without love is kind of a fascinating concept. When I began reading I was thinking mainly of romantic love - I hadn't even thought of familial love and what it would mean for that to be lost. But in this world, parents don't have love for their children. Many of the adults find babies to be too much work or a little distasteful, and given the choice most people wouldn't reproduce. Therefore, after being matched with a spouse they are also told how many children to have. As someone who is not interested in reproducing, that was a particularly chilling thought. (Interestingly, I came across a scene mentioning someone's pet dog, and I questioned why in this society anyone would have pets, but that was not explained.) Friendships were also affected, and Lena knew that post-procedure she and her best friend Hana would be in different social circles and no longer be friends. This is one of the most sad parts of the book to me because they were so close and so important to each other.
Another aspect of this society is that until cured, there is segregation of the sexes. When Lena sneaks into an illegal party, the presence of boys makes her uneasy. She notes: "No wonder the regulators decided on the segregation of boys and girls: Otherwise, it would have been a nightmare, this feeling angry and self-conscious and confused and annoyed all the time." That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?
Post-cure life was bland, predictable, and devoid of joy. You'd think more people would resist the cure, but it is so ingrained in them that it's necessary, that everyone goes along with it and the few who resist are quickly reprimanded and frequently forced to undergo the procedure earlier than planned. And of course afterwards they don't really recall why it felt so important to resist and they claim they are happier and that the procedure is the right thing to do. Much has been invested in creating this worldview, from strict internet censorship to completely rewriting the Bible. It's pretty fascinating.
Just as with Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver has sucked me into her character's lives and drawn me into a story I just didn't want to put down. Honestly, I am a little burnt on dystopias, but even though it seemed familiar and some parts were predictable, I didn't even care. I just wanted to learn more about this world and see Lena come through everything ok. Plus the story takes in Portland, Maine - one of my favorite places! I'm really looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Pandemonium, which was just released last month.