This novel (the first in a trilogy) is 50% Hunger Games, 50% The Sky is Everywhere; it’s dystopia with a heavy dash of romance and family drama(or maybe romance with a heavy dash of dystopia…) – in short, it’s pretty awesome.
17-year-old Lena lives in a world not so different from ours. People go to school and work, they drive cars and ride bikes, eat ice cream, get married, grow old. One thing they don’t do, however, is fall in love. All the adults in Lena’s world are “cured” by something called, rather ominously, the Procedure. The Procedure’s too dangerous for teenagers to undergo, however, so lots and lots of strict rules are set in place to keep teenagers from even coming in contact with the opposite sex, much less falling in love. Lena, whose Mom committed suicide after her own cure failed, is excited to be cured and then matched with her future husband. Lena’s afraid of the Invalids, uncured people who are rumored to live in the wilds outside of town. But her excitement- and her certainty that love is a disease to be cured, and that her peaceful, loveless world is the best possible one- begin to falter when she meets Alex.
The emphasis in this story is more on Lena as a character and her changing understanding of her world, and less on the world itself. Consequently, the details of this dystopia can feel a little underdeveloped – we don’t get any picture of the geography outside of Lena’s small world, and while there are a few mentions of a sort of pseudo-science/religion that dictates a lot of social values, there isn’t a good sense of what those values are, exactly. In the end, though, I’m not sure really sure this matters, because this is a story about falling in love and the end of innocence, not about Lena’s particular world. When novel focuses on those things, Oliver’s writing absoltely shines. There’s a scene at Lena’s graduation that perfectly captures the joy and bittersweetness of being seventeen, and Lena’s rocky relationship with her best friend Hana is as tenderly portrayed as her budding feelings for Alex. Definitely recommended for fans of dystopias with a romantic twist (if you know you’re Team Peeta, this one’s for you!)