Monday, February 2, 2015

Review: Requiem by Lauren Oliver

Not gonna lie, I put off reading this for a long, long time. Almost one year, to be precise. And the saddest thing is that I have books that have been on my shelves for a lot longer that I haven't even started on.

I remember when "Pandemonium" came out and how excited everyone got. It was so much better than Delirium! Lauren Oliver living up to the potential of her debut! Everyone was sitting on the edge of their seats for "Requiem" to come out, and for once, it was not just because of the evil cliffie in the middle book.

And then release date came, and it was remarkable... in how little the blogosphere reflected that. The few bloggers that did review it were underwhelmed. 

Having finally read the book... well, I can kinda see why. But I also think it deserves a little more credit than it got. 

"Requiem" picks up pretty much from where "Pandemonium" left off - Lena and co are on the run, there's tension between Lena, Alex and Julian, but there is also the added POV of Hana, Lena's friend from the first book, who has taken the Cure and is now betrothed to the future mayor of Portland. From these alternating points of view emerges a narrative about change, growing up, and, yes, love.

Spoilers ahead, y'all.

There is a certain quality about Lauren Oliver's books - the story doesn't pack much of a punch as you're reading it, but upon reflection, the true meaning of it hits you, and it hits you hard. If you want bombastic explosions and romantic melodrama, this book is not for you (I mean, there are some explosions, but there is zero doubt about the outcome of this particular love triangle. The wind, it is only for the sails of one ship.) It's not what we have come to expect from YA dystopias - I can't say if it's better or worse, but it's most certainly different. 

For one thing, have you noticed how, in an overwhelming majority of books, it's all that one protagonist? Bella is the proverbial queen in "Breaking Dawn", Katniss is indispensable as the symbol of revolution, Tris is basically Jesus in "Divergent", Rhine is the key to the cure in The Chemical Garden series, Emma is everything in "Of Poseidon", and so on, and so forth. (At least in "The Passion of the New Eve", that was intentional.) And I can't say this is purely a stylistic problem - it takes more than throwing in two narrators to make a story, and "Requiem" is a good example of dual POV used well. 

Lena and Hana don't actually cross paths until the last handful of chapters, but I think both their narrations are valuable. While we see the rebellion through Lena's eyes, we also get a glimpse of "Zombielandia" as seen from someone who actually lives in it, has family in it, and is strongly affected by both the regime and the changes happening. It shows that it takes a lot of people to make a revolution, and that not all bystanders in a conflict are complacent sheep that go where they have to go. 

And yeah, Hana's parts read a little like Lena circa "Delirium" - that girl who is just glimpsing beyond the veil of her perfect little world and trying to reconcile what she has been taught with what she's actually experiencing - but I find it hopeful, in a way. In fact, I'm not sure whose story I like more - Hana's, or Lena's?

Because, regardless of  some hang-ups I had reading the book, I like Lena. And I like how Oliver handles the love triangle - let's be honest here, we've all seen this used for cheap drama in other series, and it starts to grate after a while. But there is something very adult in the way the conflict is handled in "Requiem" - not that there is anything X-rated in here (in fact, I'm not sure if any sex does ever happen here, it's all so vague) but there is a maturity in the way the characters handle themselves that is... rather unusual for me to find in a dystopian YA.

But then, this is Lauren Oliver.

Lena is torn between Alex and Julian, but it's not just pantsfeelings we're looking at here - it's guilt, it's anger, it's jealousy. She is by turns upset at Alex's behavior and beating herself up for moving on, then she's furious with him for being a jerk; she's drawn to Julian, but feels bad about dragging him into her world, and it soon becomes clear that the love she feels for these two boys is, essentially, very different. Meanwhile, Alex and Julian both have their good and bad traits, and for some reason, these three characters interact in a meaningful, organic way.

While I'm writing this review, it hit me that this book, more than anything, is about relationships - relationships with your family, community, lovers. It's also a little bit about autonomy and growing up and living with uncertainty and chaos. There is a sharp divide between the way Lena and her friends live - on the run, in the wild, constantly facing danger and experiencing the heightened emotions that come from that, and Hana's world of careful order, where people still fall through the cracks and go through the motions, safe(ish), but only simulating a life. 

There's a nice moment towards the end of the book, where the question as to whether Lena should fight at the front comes up. Some people don't want that for her - they want to keep her safe. She, however, wants to accept the risk, and make a change. And that's really what this whole series is about - the "love is a disease" dystopian premise isn't just about love, it's about uncertainty, being swept away by your emotions, and, most importantly, accepting that aspect of life. Zombielandia isn't a dystopia because there's no Valentine's Day and people are paired off like cattle, it's a dystopia because logic and control is forcefully imposed so that people would not have to deal with uncertainty.

Which is kinda brilliant, if you ask me.

This may not be your cup of tea. Sometimes this book is hard to read - the plot may not go fast enough, the transitions can be jarring, some moments may seem too dramatic, and it may leave you scratching your head a bit. But.

Well. I said my piece. It's up to you whether you want to pick it up for yourselves.

Or, if you have, how did you find it? 

Note: Image via BookLikes.

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