Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Happy Post-Valentine’s Day! Is everyone still suffering from a chocolate coma like me?


Uh, yeah…me neither.

Annnnnyway...for today’s Undercover, I wanted to review a book coming out later this month (February 28, to be exact): PANDEMONIUM by Lauren Oliver, the much-anticipated follow-up to her bestselling YA dystopian, Delirium.

Here’s the description from the publisher, HarperTeen:

I’m pushing aside
the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana
and my old school,
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and flame.

While the above is beautifully written and gives an overall sense of where this book picks up in the trilogy, I actually didn’t care for it all that much as a main book description. So, here’s a more in-depth ditty from the back cover copy of the ARC*:

The old Lena is dead. The old Lena remains with Alex in Portland, Maine, behind a wall of smoke and flame, but the new Lena was born in the Wilds, transformed by hardship, deprivation, and loss.

Now an active member of the resistance, Lena fights for a world in which love will no longer be considered a dangerous disease. Her inner life is as turbulent as the world around her . . . . Although consumed with grief for Alex, might she be falling in love with someone else?

Sounds amazing, right? I KNOW! I’m a fan of lists, so here’s my breakdown of what I thought about Pandemonium:


  • Prose – OMG. GORGEOUS. If you’ve ever read a Lauren Oliver book, then you know she’s a masterful writer. Her sentences are filled with unique and accessible metaphors. She balances her scenes perfectly with the right amount of character introspection, action, and dialogue. The cadence of her sentences are so rhythmic, that I found myself reading them over and over (and out loud) just because they sounded good. The end result is prose that’s smooth and intoxicating.
  • Setting – The world of Pandemonium is based partly in the Wilds—which are rugged, raw, and broken; and the underground landscape of New York City, which is dark, dirty, and claustrophobic. The descriptions aren’t tedious or monopolizing. They’re just enough to let you see Lena’s world as she sees it.
  • Pacing – Even the “murky middle” is fast-paced and full of stakes that keep getting higher, and higher, and higher…
  • Dialogue – the conversations are so natural and consistent to each character. Did I mention yet that I think Lauren Oliver is a masterful writer?
  • Lena – This is sort of two-fold. There’s the Lena in Delirium and the character journey she took in that book. And then there’s Lena in Pandemonium, a more mature, scrappier character who struggles with “survivor’s guilt” and just, surviving. The Pandemonium Lena is a natural progression from Delirium Lena, so I loved seeing that character arc continue here. And then by the end…without giving too much away, it’s like all the ingredients of a stew coming together in a perfect simmer!
  • Romance – There’s some smexy scenes happening in this book! (PG scenes, but still smexy!) And sexual tension! And lovey-dovey stuff but NOT insta-lovey-dovey stuff! Pop the champagne/sparkling cider!


  • Cliffhanger ending – if you read Delirium, then you know Oliver likes to leave her readers just as the roller coaster tips over the crest of a loop, making us wait A WHOLE YEAR for our stomachs to finish dropping. I have a hate/love relationship with cliffhanger endings and Pandemonium was no exception.
  • Dual timelines – Pandemonium’s chapters are distinguished from Now and Then; Lena’s world as she’s living it in the present moment, and Lena’s world directly after the first book ended (but also told in present tense). It sort of works like two ends from opposite sides coming together to meet in the middle. If you don’t like this kind of structure, then you might not dig the layout of this book. However, I think it’s what helps makes the book so fast-paced.
  • Second book in a series – In my opinion, I don’t think you’d get the full experience of this book if you don’t read Delirium first…sometimes you can get by without having read the earlier books in a series or trilogy, and I guess technically you could get by just fine without having read Delirium first. I mean, Pandemonium has a fresh set of characters and settings, Lena is a much different person than in the first book, the stakes are higher than ever…but I think you’d really lose out on why Lena is the way she is if you don’t read Delirium before diving into this bok. With dystopians, so much of what can make them successful or not hinges on the world, the rules, the society, and how those things affect the protagonist. In Delirium, you really get a sense of what it means to be Cured, what society fears about deliria, how the rules suffocate a teenager at the start of emotional and sexual exploration. You also get a much grander understanding of what Lena has sacrificed and survived when she steps into the world of Pandemonium.

Bottom Line: If you want action, snappy dialogue, a brilliant character journey, sexual tension to fill an auditorium, then Read. This. Book. And then join me in the misery of having to wait until next February for Requiem to come out. My overall thought when I finished this book was, Damn, Lauren Oliver, damn. You. Win. Pandemonium has just about ruined all the other books on my TBR shelf. It does not play fair, y’all. And for those of you who don’t know, that is a HIGH, HIGH compliment.

Okay, I totally meant for this review to be short and sweet and um…it is not that. Sorry! But to reward those of you who've read my post this far, here's a little treat, courtesy of Lauren Oliver, Harper Collins, and MTV Hollywood Crush: an exclusive sneak preview of Hana, a novella written from the point of view of Lena's best friend in Delirium. It's ninety pages of goodness and should be enough to tide you over until Pandemonium comes out (you'll also be able to download Hana as an ebook the same day -- 2/28).

Who else is looking forward to the second book in this series?

*The Pandemonium I reviewed was an Advanced Reader’s Copy I received from a fellow ALA Midwinter conference attendee. The jacket copy description I included above may not be final.


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