Reading Lauren Oliver’s novels Delirium and Pandemonium made me self-conscious. Last Saturday, I went to a concert at Cerulean, a local restaurant, featuring the excellent band The Vespers, and I brought a book along with to read during the lulls. This is standard operating procedure for my life—I’ve brought books to read when I waited for doctor’s appointments, job interviews, and while eating at fast food restaurants. I also read when I’m watching sports on TV. The ones with a lot of downtime work best—like football and baseball—but I have also figured out how to sneak in a sentence or two when the point guard dribbles the basketball court.
Normally, I don’t give a second thought to who might see me reading in public, or to which book I take with me. I brought Pandemonium with me to the Vespers concert, and I was very aware of how it might look for me—a 27-year-old single guy—to be reading a novel whose target audience is teen girls. And as you can tell from the cover, Pandemonium is clearly a "girl" book.
Oliver’s trilogy—the third book, Reqiuem, will be published next year—is set in a world where love has been classified as a disease (Amor Deliria Nervosa) and is “cured” by a government-mandated procedure. The plot follows Lena, a normal girl who—you guessed it—meets a boy and “gets the disease” the summer before she is due to be cured. That summary turned me off initially, but I kept seeing Oliver’s name on “best YA sci-fi books” lists, so I finally decided to give Delirium a try.
(By the way, I’m writing a YA sci-fi novel, so reading authors like Oliver, Julianna Baggott, Neal Shusterman, and Scott Westerfield counts as research. And I just like reading them.)
The further I got into Oliver’s fictional world, I was impressed by the detail and thought she put into all the ways a cure for love would reshape the world. Religion, education, literature, and family all get woven into the story. As for the love story, I could take it or leave it. And aside from all the world-building, Oliver is just a good sentence-level writer. The quality of her prose is quite a bit higher than most YA novels I read.
So…there were plenty of perfectly defensible reasons for me to be reading Pandemonium, but as I walked across the parking lot to the concert, I held it so that the back cover was facing outward and the front cover hidden against my leg. I probably could have found a chair to sit in, but that might have attracted attention, so I sat in the grass to the far right of the stage. And just in case someone recognized me, I kept the book flat in my lap, so he wouldn’t see what I was reading.
Of course, someone did. A friend parked his bike at the nearby rack, waved, and came over to say “hi.” He mentioned how absorbed I seemed to be in my book and that it must be good, and I nodded and agreed. I’m usually eager to talk about whatever it is I’m reading, but on that evening I didn’t mention the author or title, and I certainly did not lift my book up so he could see the cover.
It’s like I was a character in Oliver’s world, scared an undercover Regulator would see my inappropriate reading material and arrest me on the spot. No one did, of course, because I don’t live in a totalitarian police state, but I still think I would have gotten some weird looks if I had been caught.
There are no laws against reading, but certain kinds of books do carry a stigma with them, and as a *sci-fi* *Young Adult* *girl* book, Pandemonium is a literary ghetto hat trick. Even though it’s a good book, and I enjoyed reading it, and it gave me helpful instruction on world-building and plot structure, I didn’t want you to know I was reading it.