Lena Haloway, our fearful narrator (yes, we mean fearful—this girl's afraid of everything), lives in a world where love is a sickness. And a crime. No wonder Lena's scared. In this society, your own emotions can be your enemy.
Lucky for everyone, we guess, there's a cure. A cure. For love. When people turn 18, they get "cured" and they're free to live their lives. And by free we mean they get their education, occupation, spouse, and number of kids chosen for them.
And they have no emotions. Yikes. This freedom doesn't sound very free to us.
On the day of Lena's evaluation—the procedure that will decide everything about her future—the people who live outside of her society (the Invalids) pull a prank: they release a bunch of cows into the evaluation room. Their message is that Lena and her fellow citizens are all a bunch of brainless livestock.
After Lena moos, er, moves out of the way, she ruminates on the implications of the prank. Then she sees a boy watching her from the balcony. He does the unthinkable: he winks at her.
Scandalized like a Victorian lady who has just seen an unclothed ankle, Lena just can't get him outta her head. A few days later, on a run with her BFF Hana, she meets the same boy on the docks.
His name is Alex. He's a Cured. He's a guard for the city of Portland, Maine. And he's a total flirt, despite being Cured. Which is kind of perplexing.
Lena and Hana have a falling out when Lena discovers that Hana is attending forbidden parties where boys and girls hang out together. But, unable to resist the scandalous appeal of a party, Lena sneaks out and goes to a party anyway. While there, she runs into Alex again. Even though he's cured, they dance.
However, Lena is soon betrayed. Alex confesses he's not actually cured—while this seems to shock Lena, we're not at all surprised by this development. Anyway, Lena runs away from him.
Then, one night, Hana goes to another party. Lena sits this one out, until she hears that the Regulators (whose purpose in this futuristic society is exactly what you think it is) are about to do a raid. Lena sneaks out to the party to warn Hana, but she's too late. The raiders arrive, and Lena's become a tasty snack for an angry attack dog.
Alex saves her, and nurses her back to health. They make up. And he takes his shirt off, which derails Lena's whole train of thought.
A few days later, she finds out that Hana lived too. That's a relief. Now she can get back to thinking about Alex's shirtlessness without guilt.
Wanting Lena to see the outside world, Alex sneaks her out into the Wilds—the place where people who have shirked their society's laws live. It's not as scary as she's been led to believe. It's just, like, nature and stuff, you know?
While there, Lena and Alex read poetry under the stars. However, Lena can't forget that her life has been chosen for her. She's supposed to marry Brian Scharff, who is a total geek and a half (as if!). To escape her fate, Lena and Alex decide to run away from Portland and live in the Wilds together.
Their plan gets delayed by two things:
- Alex realizes that Lena's mother might still be alive in the Crypts, Portland's mental institution. He takes Lena to visit her, but finds out she's escaped.
- The Regulators catch Lena and Alex engaging in unlawful flirtation. Lena is taken home and restrained, and the date of her cure is moved up.
Lena waits patiently for Alex to save her, like the princess he's told her she is. If he doesn't save her, Lena has a foolproof back up plan: she'll kill herself. Um, okay, this is foolish, not foolproof. But you should just roll with it, we guess.
Thankfully for Lena, Alex does save her, and they head for the border on his motorcycle. Pursued by helicopters and men with guns, Lena scales the fence to escape.
But Alex doesn't make it. He's shot and captured by the Regulators. He implores Lena to run... and run, she does. Straight for the sequel. Zing.