Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium is, as most readers know, the second book in the Delirium trilogy. In this novel we follow Lena after she narrowly escapes being "cured" and crosses over into the Wilds.

Two story lines alternate throughout Pandemonium; Lena when she first escapes into the Wilds, and Lena, secret infiltrator for the Resistance.

The first storyline, entitled "then" follows Lena after her escape from Portland into the Wilds. Starving and sick, Lena is rescued by a band of survivors, "Invalids", people who live in the Wilds. The ragtag band that takes her in consists of Raven and Tack, who are the leaders of the group, as well as Hunter, Grandma, a young girl named Blue, Roach, Squirrel and a few others. Lena now finds herself located in the Wilds outside of Rochester, New Hampshire, struggling to survive. Dependent upon supplies from those "inside" the cities, the group doesn't have enough food and are often sick. Lena struggles to continue on and to cope with the loss of Alex. It is during this time that she is remade into a strong, independent young woman partly through circumstance and partly through the tutelage of Raven.

The second storyline entitled "now" follows Lena, living in Brooklyn, New York under an assumed identity (Lena Morgan Jones), attending school but really functioning as an resistance operative. Her mission is to observe the DFA, Deliria-Free America organization, headed by Thomas Fineman. Lena is most interested in Thomas's son, Julian, a handsome, blond, blue-eyed eighteen year old who has not yet had the cure for deliria. This is because Julian has had cancer and he's been told the cure will likely kill him. But Julian will get his cure because he has asked for it. Because, as Julian tells the crowd at the Javit Center, "We must excise the sickness. We must cut it out, no matter what the risks. ....It will spread like the very worst cancer and put all of us risk." It is obvious that Julian is to be a martyr for the cause.

The DFA are holding rallies to garner support for administering the cure early. This is because resistance to the procedure is mounting and because the government intends to tighten it's grip even further on American society. During one such rally, Lena is instructed to stay close to Julian no matter what. When Scavengers attack the rally and Julian is helped to escape into the underground tunnels, Lena follows. From this point on, the dangers Lena experience follow swiftly one after another. When Julian and Lena are captured by persons unknown, their terrifying experiences draw them together. Lena decides to take a risk by telling Julian the truth - about their society and about the sickness. Julian must reconsider his entire belief system - one that he was willing to die for.

Lena continues on as a strong female protagonist, but also as a young person who decides that her circumstances and her losses in life will not make her hard and cruel. Lena is furious when she learns the resistance's true motives for what happened to her and Julian and even more so for their callous disregard for Julian. Lena decides she will be different.
"I feel a sharp stab of sadness. I have had to give up so much, so many selves and lives already. I have grown up and out of the rubble of my old lives, of the things and people I have cared for: My mom. Grace. Hana. Alex.
And now Julian.
This is not who I wanted to be....
This is not why I came into the Wilds, why Alex wanted me to come: not to turn my back and bury the people I care about, and build myself hard and careless on top of their bodies, as Raven does. That is what the Zombies do."

I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed by this novel, perhaps because Delirium had such a heart-pounding climax. Second novels in a trilogy are notoriously difficult to write and therefore, weaker and I think Pandemonium fits this description. It's difficult to present two story lines in a novel and balance reader interest in each. Lauren Oliver does a wonderful job of linking the two story lines together with matching events and themes. And they do eventually merge into the one story happening in the present. However, because the second thread describes what is happening in the "now" to Lena, this is what one really wants to read about. In some aspects the second storyline, "now" seems to be a reworking of the same kind of storyline that was presented in the first book, Delirium. The ending is redeeming and sets up an interesting conflict for Lena, leading into the third book, while revealing some (not so surprising) secrets.

Despite this reservation, Pandemonium, overall is a good read. Lauren Oliver is a skillful writer, able to masterfully convey to her readers the intensity of a situation and the depth of emotion her characters are experiencing. Her characters have substance and grow with the storyline, making them realistic to the reader.

I look forward to Requiem, the final installment of this series.

Lauren Oliver discussing her books:

Book Details:
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
New York: HarperCollins Publishers 2012
375 pp.

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