I have a confession to make: I have never read George Orwell’s “1984”, nor Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” Yet I still consider myself an avid fan of the dystopia genre. Call me fake all you want; I can take the heat. Nevertheless, my love affair with dystopian novels — and objectively bad ones at that — began during my freshman year of high school, and might well have saved me from going insane during quarantine.
Book lovers are no strangers to reading slumps. Some reading slumps last a few weeks, others, a few months. My worst one lasted four years … And my golden iPhone 5S was the culprit. It all dates back to 2015. I was an 11-year-old starting my second semester of fifth grade when, after months of pleading with my parents, I was gifted my best-friend-slash-biggest-curse: the aforementioned golden iPhone. Obsessed with my new bestie, I could have never predicted that I wouldn’t touch a book for anything other than academic purposes for the next four years.
I used to devour three books a week on average until I suddenly stopped. Worried and anxious that I had abandoned my most beloved hobby, my parents started compulsively buying new books for me to get back into my reading game. Sadly, their copious spending did nothing to revitalize my love for reading. They had almost given up hope when a friend of mine recommended Lauren Oliver’s “Delirium” series. Little did I know these would be the books to get me back into reading and save me from disaster once the COVID-19 pandemic came around.
“Delirium,” the first and titular book of the series, follows Lena, the trilogy’s anti-establishment, determined protagonist, as she fights back against a government that seeks to protect society from amor deliria nervosa, a deadly disease more commonly known as Love. I’ve always been a sucker for romance, especially when it involves angst, so naturally, I devoured “Delirium” in a matter of days. At the time, I didn’t know the book was part of a series, but I could not contain my excitement when I found out there were sequels.
Bored out of my mind during quarantine, I ordered the other two books in the trilogy and received an Amazon package with them two days later. I didn’t just read these books; I ate. Them. Up. And I have videos of me bawling my eyes out hidden in the depths of my Snapchat’s My Eyes Only to prove it. Although the trilogy’s first novel is well-liked, the second and third are not the most popular, and it isn’t hard to understand why. In trying to feed more content to her fans, Oliver gets sloppy, failing to tie details together at times and adding storylines that feel forced. While I can safely look at the books critically now, during my second semester of sophomore year in high school, I would recommend the series to everyone. They were the best books I had ever read, and I would have died on that hill.
As I spiraled further into the world of dystopia, I refused to read acclaimed dystopian classics, like Orwell and Bradbury’s previously mentioned novels or the work of Octavia Butler and Lois Lowry. (Technically, the first dystopian novel I ever read was George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” but it was clearly not the one to grasp my attention.) While I did progress into the world of Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” trilogy — which is much more akin to my taste in books now — at the time, I incessantly searched “books like the Delirium trilogy” on Google, in hopes that a similar (enough) dystopian series could fill the “Delirium”-sized void in my heart. This is how I first made contact with Tahereh Mafi’s “Shatter Me” series, which follows Juliette Ferrars, a 17-year-old girl with a paralyzing touch that drains energy from others and kills anything that comes near her grasp.
To my pathetic, dystopia-loving heart, this was an earth-shattering discovery. To add more to my excitement, the series has six books. You heard me. SIX. BOOKS. Obviously, I breezed through these, mostly due to my investment in the angst-filled, at times cringey, romance that complemented the novels’ attention-grabbing yet amateur plot. Juliette’s inability to touch others with the exception of her love interests really pulled at my heartstrings. While I was inclined to give most of the series’ books four or five stars, many readers differed from my opinion, and as I reflect on the books now, they really don’t deserve the high rating. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that if I were to re-read them now, I would eat them up just the same.
I must confess I’m a bit ashamed of my undying love for YA dystopia. Even though I would recommend them incessantly a few years ago, for some reason it’s embarrassing to admit my adoration for them now. Nonetheless, I am not scared to admit that books like Oliver’s and Mafi’s are highly enjoyable. While the novels’ plots may seem silly and oftentimes stupid, they undeniably grab readers’ attention and make the reading experience, to put it simply, fun. While some may say that YA dystopian novels all follow the same premise and that the general genre hasn’t evolved, they make reading entertaining, and sometimes that’s just what we need to get out of a reading slump, or to just detach from the “real world.” After all, these books did save me from my worst reading slump of all time, so I have to give credit where it’s due.
Although I would say my taste in books is much more sophisticated now, I still turn to series like “Delirium” and “Shatter Me” for solace in times of distress. Some books do exist for the mere purpose of entertainment, and Oliver’s trilogy and Mafi’s series execute that job beautifully.
Daily Arts Contributor Graciela Batlle Cestero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.