In a world with closely controlled borders, seventeen-year-old Lena counts down the days until she receives the cure for what her government labels, “the deadliest of all deadly things,” or Love. Lena can’t wait to finally be cured, to know she’s safe from this vile and unpredictable thing. Then she meets Alex, and everything goes sideways. She isn’t sure what to think about the disease or the rumored uncured people living outside the safe borders of the town or Portland. And Alex is different. Special. Before she can stop it, her attraction toward him blossoms into something deep and forbidden, and for once, dutiful Lena doesn’t care if she’s breaking all the rules. How could anyone not break rules when they feel so wonderful?
But her procedure date approaches, and once it arrives, her feelings for Alex will be gone. Alex knows how to live away from town, but leaving means walking away from her family and her best friend Hannah. How can Lena do that? With time quickly running out and enforcers so close to discovering her secret relationship, Lena must decide what to do and find a way to escape before it’s too late.
Since her stunning debut Before I Fall, Oliver has delivered sharply brilliant prose framed around powerful characters and themes. Her exploration of love rockets readers through a dangerous world in which love is a disease scientists are now able to cure. Lena’s roller coaster ride of emotions becomes a little difficult to believe at times, as she both carefully controls her stoic public face and privately reels from the wild emotional highs and lows of her infatuation with Alex. Her best friend’s perfect understanding and lack of jealousy at being ditched for the boyfriend also felt a little hollow. Despite this, the story is intense and its narrative finely honed. Lena’s recollections of her mother and the descriptions of the Wilds beyond Portland are deeply captivating.
Whether or not Lena and Alex engage in sex is left pretty vague. Lena describes her feelings at allowing Alex to see her without a shirt, and how before that moment she felt awkwardly put together, but his opinion of her as beautiful changes Lena’s perception of herself. The couple frequently kiss one another.
Some biblical characters and references are altered, as if they’ve been rewritten by a government with an agenda against love. Deeper spiritual pursuits are not really explored.
Police with weapons and dogs surround a house filled with people listening to forbidden music. They attack the party-goers, attempting to punish and subdue them. Some details are intense and a little grisly. A girl infected with “the Deliria” is bound to her bed until she can receive surgery to cure her from the disease of love. Later, police chase down a young couple trying to escape and attempt to shoot them.
Lena’s sister gives her a tranquilizer pill to calm her. Lana believes it is ibuprofen.