A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Despite only a faint backstory of how this future United States got this way, the book still sets up a good debate about why a society would make everyone "safe" from strong emotion. For more on dystopian societies, high schoolers who haven't read 1984 by George Orwell or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley should add these to their reading list (if English teachers haven't already) and compare. Also, see our list of recommended dystopian novels for more modern titles.
Characters risk everything to fight for love against a hyper-controlling government that has banned it.
Positive Role Models
After the "procedure" at 18, everyone is apathetic, so that means the only thinking, feeling, positive characters are young. At first Lena wants what everyone else is told to want -- the numbness of the procedure -- but she slowly comes around, understanding herself better and why she should fight for individual freedom. Lena's love interest is idealized here, like many boyfriends are in fantasy-romances -- he's handsome, older, and wiser, and never says or does anything wrong.
Violence & Scariness
The government rules over all in this book, no negotiation. All U.S. residents endure a procedure, essentially brain surgery, at 18 years old to remove their ability to love; some are strapped down against their will and taken into surgery. Regulators and dogs go after dissenters with clubs and guns. Mostly people are clubbed over the head as they run, dogs bite others, a few are shot. The main character remembers hearing about her mother's suicide when she was 6 years old, jumping off a cliff into the ocean, plus mentions of other suicides.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Lena and Alex kiss a lot and Alex takes off Lena's shirt. Vague innuendo from Lena's friend Hana that more goes on than that.
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"F--k" you!" uttered twice. Plus "s--t" and "s--tty," and "ass."
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Products & Purchases
A few brands mentioned, but it's things like Advil.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Lena recalls a time when she and Hana got drunk one bored afternoon and watched the room spin, plus drinking and smoking at underground parties.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that a forbidden romance dominates this dystopian fantasy. The love connection at its core is idealized and stays pretty innocent: Lena and Alex kiss and he takes off her shirt. The amount of violence is pretty typical for the genre. The main character remembers the suicide of her mother more than a decade earlier to avoid the "procedure" -- essentially brain surgery every U.S. citizen endures to remove their ability to be infected by Amor Deliria Nervosa, or love. The threat of death hovers over Lena and Alex if the couple is found out, plus batons are used on victims and there's some shooting. Despite only a faint backstory of how this future United States got this way, the book still sets up a good debate about why a society would make everyone "safe" from strong emotion.
Is It Any Good?
Teen readers will be drawn into this book's exciting premise and its mix of romance, high drama and danger. If citizens get "infected" by love, government regulators drag them, kicking and screaming to poke at their brains until they don't care about anyone anymore. Yikes. If readers stay focused on Lena and Alex's star-crossed romance, they are in for a great ride. Those who try to follow the whys and hows of the making of this society will find the unanswered questions keep on coming. They will wish the author had taken more time to flush-out her dystopian backdrop.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.