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.
- Right away, we're dumped into a world where love is a sickness and a crime: "It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure" (1.1).
- Our narrator will be having "the procedure" (1.2) on her eighteenth birthday, which is ninety-five days away: September 3. That puts us near the end of May.
- The narrator isn't afraid of the cure. She's looking forward to never being able to love. After all, it's "the deadliest of all deadly things" (1.12). We always though the Deadliest Catch was a ten-foot King Crab.
- Our narrator, Lena, tells us, "the smell of oranges has always reminded me of funerals" (2.1). We doubt Tropicana will be using that for a slogan any time soon.
- That funeral in question is that of our narrator's mother, who has committed suicide. Lena now lives with her Aunt Carol and her cousins, Jenny and Grace.
- But this is all a flashback. In the present day, Lena is getting ready for her evaluation—a procedure that will rank her and match her with a boy to be married to after she is cured (from that love sickness). Lena hopes to be "a seven or an eight" (2.20). Ugh. This isn't the most feminist book ever.
- Aunt Carol walks Lena down to the laboratories where the evaluation will be conducted.
- Lena's friend Hana runs up while Lena is waiting in line to be evaluated. Hana is gorgeous, blonde, and basically everything Lena is not. Lena doesn't have a very high opinion of herself, sadly.
- Lena's worried about Hana because she's been getting trouble at school and just generally looking like she's going to run away. Even worse, Hana's been saying stuff like, "if [the government] really wants us to be happy, they'd let us pick ourselves" (3.41). Speaking out against the government, the matching, the evaluations, etc., is a big no-no. So much so that all this rebelliousness causes Lena to gasp and clutch her pearls.
- When the two get to the front of the line, they have to split up for their individual evaluations.
- A nurse leads Lena to a room where she has to change into a see-through plastic gown. And we think those paper butt-bearing gowns we've got in our modern hospitals are awkward.
- She steps into the evaluation room, where blindingly bright lights shine on her.
- The evaluation board starts asking her questions. But this evaluation is less like a police interrogation and more like an online dating questionnaire: "Talk to us about the things you like to do. Your interests, hobbies, favorite subject" (4.32).
- Lena launches into her prepared speech about how normal and boring she is, but then she makes a mistake: she lists Romeo and Juliet as her favorite book. You can practically hear the record needle scratching.
- Things get worse when she say the color gray is her favorite because it reminds her of the pale color of the sky right before the sunrise.
- This is all a little too lovey-dovey for the evaluation board. We wouldn't be surprised if they just shot Lena on the spot. But the ground starts rumbling before they can respond to her romantic musings.
- A herd of cows—yes, you read that right—rushes through the evaluation room. Lena hides behind a table. She's safe there, and can see that a message is written on the cows' behinds: "NOT CURE, DEATH" (4.61).
- Lena thinks it's a protest staged by the Invalids, "the people who live in the Wilds" (4.62).
- Nonetheless, she's relieved that they interrupted her awful evaluation.
- Right before Lena gets cleared out of the room, she notices a boy with beautiful amber eyes on the observation deck above her.
- He winks at her. She swoons.
- Lena has a dream about falling off a cliff into her dead, bloated, drowned mother's arms. She calls it the Coldness. We would call it traumatized for life.
- She stumbles downstairs to breakfast and watches a news report about that zany prank that occurred at her evaluation. See, the news doesn't mention the Invalids because no one is supposed to know that they exist.
- The good news is that Lena gets a redo of her evaluation.
- After school, Lena and Hana go for their daily gossip and jog session.
- Hana deviates from their usual route when she goes into an area that's closed off by a security fence, but has been carelessly left open.
- Inside the Authorized Personnel Only area, they run into a male guard… And it's the boy who winked at Lena at her evaluation.
- His name is Alex. Lena says, "I saw you" (5.100). But he denies it.
- Hana wants a tour of all of this exciting behind-the-scenes stuff, but Alex says, "There's nothing to see. Unless you're a fan of industrial waste" (5.131). No thanks, we've had enough of Paris Hilton's music career.
- Instead, Alex takes the girls to see a beautiful view of the coast.
- While they're captivated with the view, Alex whispers one word into Lena's ear: "Gray" (5.139). Swoon, Part Two.
- He makes a big point of saying that the view is even prettier at sunset, which is at 8:30PM.
- No, he isn't a local news weatherman in training. Lena thinks he's asking her to meet him there that night. We would swoon again, but we haven't recovered from the last one just yet.
- That night, Lena frets throughout the entire dinner about whether or not she should go meet Alex.
- She decides to do it, telling her aunt that she has to pick up something she forgot at Hana's house.
- Pedaling her bike to the coast, she worries about "the revolving eye that [she] knows is always watching" (6.53). Yes, Lena lives in Middle-earth.
- Sure enough, the Regulators march up and perform an identity check on Lena. They run her ID through the Secure Validation System and tell her to be home before curfew. "You wouldn't want to get into any trouble" (6.74), they tell her, as though they hope she gets into trouble so they can rough her up a bit. Creepy.
- She finally gets to Back Cove where she sees a beautiful sunset… but no Alex. Wah wah wah.
- This chapter is all about happy stuff, which is why it's so short.
- Lena graduates andshe gets invited to a party by a popular girl. Life is all downhill from here.
- Flash forward a couple of weeks to the Fourth of July, which is still celebrated in Lena's world.
- Lena goes over to Hana's house so they can go together to their annual Fourth fireworks.
- But Hana is listening to forbidden music, "music that makes you want to scream and jump up and down and break stuff and cry" (8.30). Plus, Hana's going to a party. With boys.
- When Lena hears this, she totally loses her mind. She goes crazy and feels sick. Don't worry, Lena, the same thing happens to us when we hear Limp Bizkit.
- Now Lena knows why Hana's been acting strange. She might have amor deliria nervosa, a.k.a. the love disease, which is illegal in this world.
- Lena thinks that Hana has "been turning into someone I don't know" (8.40).
- They argue back and forth, with Hana telling Lena that she can't live her live "being so scared all the time" (8.72) and Lena telling Hana that she's going to get herself killed.
- Finally, Hana tells Lena that she has to get over her mother's death, to which Lena eloquently responds, "Fuck you" (8.82).
- Lena storms out of Hana's house and walks back home, feeling lucky that someday she'll be cured and never have to worry about the deliria ever again.
- At her house, Lena fumes about the mean ol' things mean ol' Hana said to her, like her being scared and not being able to get over her mother.
- She reminisces about the dance parties she had with her mom, called "sock jams" (9.7). Weird.
- After a lot of brooding, Lena decides that she has to "prove Hana wrong" (9.30) and sneak out to the party.
- That night, she does sneak out and gets to the party without incident.
- It's in a barn, and it's a lot like the Matrix Reloaded dance party.
- Lena's freaked out that boys and girls are hanging out together, but before she can leave, Hana finds her and introduces her to her friend, Drew. Drew is a boy who we will never see again after this chapter.
- Hana asks her to stay. But the appearance of the mysterious Alex is what really gets Lena to stay at the party.
- Alex admits to Lena that he had to lie about seeing her at the evaluations because he wasn't supposed to be there. He could have lost his job.
- He also tells her that he's been watching her for a while without her realizing it. She finds this endearing instead of creepy.
- After that discussion, they dance. And Lena swoons. Again.
- Lena's been lying to her aunt and sneaking out to be with Alex every chance she can get.
- She meets him at the beach, and he says "I'm glad you came" (10.17). The universe will never be the same.
- Because Alex has been cured, it's legal for her to hang out with him.
- They hang out, go to the beach, and talk about Lena's dead mother. You know, romantic stuff.
- One day, they're playing on the beach when Alex confesses that he isn't actually cured. The scars on his neck that indicate he's had the procedure are fake.
- Lena freaks out and runs away. She gets on her bike and rides home before Alex can explain himself.
- Lena spends days worrying that she has deliria and she's going to end up like her mother.
- One day, on a run, she runs past the statue of the Governor, where she and Hana used to run every day. It's also near where Alex used to work.
- There's a note in the statue's hand. It's from Alex. It says, "I'm so sorry. Please forgive me" (11.11).
- Meanwhile, Lena has her redo evaluation. She doesn't screw it up this time, and gets ranked an 8.
- She's matched up with Brian Scharff, and she is set to be married to him after she graduates college. His hobbies are "watching the news and fantasy football" (11.30). Lena doesn't sound too thrilled about this whole situation.
- Hana bumps into Lena one morning, and the two catch up.
- Although Hana wants to make up, Lena is still angry at Hana. Hana is still hanging out with popular girls and going to parties that Lena doesn't want to go to.
- She thinks to herself, "I wish I could backpedal, […] tell her I miss her and I want to be best friends again" (12.86).
- But she doesn't.
- That night, the raiders do a raid. It's not pretty. They invade families' homes and kill a pet dog.
- Lena and her family are safe, but Lena is worried they're going to bust Hana's party.
- She sneaks out, manages to avoid the raiders, and gets to the party.
- Unfortunately, before she finds Hana, the raiders arrive and "let the dogs loose" (13.86).
- We're not sure if they're blaring "Who Let the Dogs Out" or actually sending attack dogs after people. We're also not sure which would be worse.
- When the raiders bust in, everyone panics. "Animals. […] We're animals," (14.9) Lena thinks, as everyone runs for their lives.
- Raider clubs smash skulls, and dogs bite out chunks of flesh from people all around Lena. Guess those dogs were real. Lena still can't find Hana.
- Before she can escape, a dog bites down on her leg. It takes a nice nibble, then Alex arrives and drags her away.
- They get to a shed, where it's safe. Lena is bleeding all over the place and about to pass out. Alex takes his shirt off and…. Well, it's hard to tell what happens next. Lena can't believe Alex took his shirt off. She "can't stop staring" (14.57). Guess that's the way to cure a dog bite: have a hot guy strip down. Then you totally forget what's happening to you anyway.
- Once Lena comes to her senses, she sees that Alex has bandaged her leg. He also reveals that he lives in the Wilds.
- Then they smooch. It's "the only thing [Lena has] ever wanted" (14.96). Um, what? What about all those years you were alive before you met Alex? Seriously, girl. Get a grip.
- As they kiss, Lena knows she's come down with the deliria. "It will kill me, it will kill me, it will kill me. And I don't care" (14.106), she tells herself. Yep. She's definitely crazy. But maybe it's not the deliria she's gone crazy with.
- The morning after the raid, Lena can't stop thinking about Alex. Oh yeah, and the giant gaping hole in her flesh from the dog attack. It kind of hurts.
- Another thing that bothers her: she hasn't been able to get in touch with Hana.
- Her BFF might be dead, but Lena still goes to work at her uncle's grocery store and pines over Alex. She can't wait until she gets off work so she can go see him.
- Alex is even more impatient. He goes through Lena's line at the grocery store and "shoots [her] his amazing crooked smile" (15.36). Do any YA boys not have amazing crooked smiles? Jeez.
- Lena can't get enough of Alex, so she makes Jeb, her adult co-worker, do her work for her while she abandons her post to flirt with Alex some more.
- Then, when she gets back, she hides all the ibuprofen and tells Jed she has to go restock. So, can he, like, cover the front for her again? All that's missing from this fakeout is an airheaded hair twirl.
- In the back room, Lena waits for Alex to sneak in and see her, when instead, Hana shows up.
- Instead of being relieved that Hana is alive, Lena's worried that Alex won't sneak in now.
- Hana breaks down because she almost died during the raid at the party.
- Alex comes in while Lena is comforting Hana, so Lena has to tell Hana the whole story. She also tells her that she tried to warn her about the raid, but couldn't find her.
- From that point on, they all decide to be BFFs together. It's just all crazy, stupid love. Like that movie with Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling's abs.
- Alex, Hana, and Lena hang out in an abandoned house on 37 Brooks Street in Deering Highlands.
- Finally alone with each other, Lena asks Alex about the Wilds. And when they're not talking about that, they're, well, getting a little wild. Not too wild. Lena is still technically un-wild.
- Time flies when you're having fun. There's only a month left until Lena's procedure, and now she doesn't want it to happen.
- Alex suggests that Lena accompany him into the Wilds for a day and she agrees.
- They sneak past the border and over the fence, which isn't actually electrified all the way, like Lena's been taught. Off they go, "into the Wilds" (17.79).
- Um, Lena, remember what happened to the guy in Into the Wild? He didn't come back.
- As Lena and Alex trek through the Wilds, Lena is afraid that Alex will regret bringing her.
- They finally make it to a ramshackle little camp in the woods, where Alex has a trailer that he used to live in.
- Inside, they get comfortable with some candles and some Shakespearean sonnets. It's the first time Lena has ever heard poetry, and it "makes [her] feel exhilarated and sad at the same time" (18.75).
- His trailer has a nifty convertible roof, so he peels it back like a sardine can and they watch the stars.
- Shortly before dawn, they sneak back to Portland and Lena returns safely to her own bed.
- Today, Lena can't meet Alex because her future husband-to-be Brian Scharff if coming over for dinner. Yikes. Lena's only seventeen, you know. Those Desperate Housewives were in their 30s and 40s by the time they got themselves into situations like this.
- Lena spends a few pages telling us how repulsive Brian Scharff is. He's "impressively short, for a guy" (19.61), thin, is the captain of the fencing team (which is the pinnacle of loser-dom to Lena), and has allergies and asthma. That jerk! How dare he think he's good enough for Lena?
- Then Lena spends a few more pages worrying about Alex and talking about how disgusting Brian Scharff is for even existing.
- When she comes back from the kitchen with a drink of water for Brian, she hears him say to her aunt, "[Lena's] not as pretty as in the pictures" (19.76).
- Lena flips out and tries not to cry because this failed excuse for a man thinks she's not as pretty as a picture of her he saw.
- She goes outside to have a moment. Brian follows her and apologizes and tries to tell her that he understands what she's going through.
- Saint Lena "let[s] him hold [her] hand an extra few seconds" (19.113).
- Some creepazoid shows up and starts staring at them while they're holding hands. Brian lets the dude know that it's okay, because they're paired to be married in a few years and the guy leaves.
- But it wasn't just any guy; it was Alex.
- Lena is freaking out because Alex saw her holding hands with that sweaty little worm Brian.
- After dinner, she goes to 37 Brooks Street and sees that all of her and Alex's stuff is gone.
- She leaves Alex a note in the Governor's hand to meet her at midnight.
- He does meet her at 37 Brooks, where he's set up a nice little nest for them to lie in and watch the stars.
- Since she doesn't have much time left, he suggests that they run away into the Wilds together… and never come back.
- Lena's scared to do this because she doesn't want to end up like her mother—you know, insane.
- She talks about her mother for four or five pages, before she mentions a pin her mother wore: a "long, silver dagger-thing, with two bright jewels in the hilt, like eyes" (20.67).
- Alex is in shock. Not because that sounds like the tackiest pin ever sold on QVC, but because he's seen it before. "Lena […] I think your mother is alive" (20.83), he says. Gulp.
- Today, Lena is going with Alex to the Crypts, an asylum for criminals with deliria. Also, it's supposedly where Lena's mother lives now.
- Lena recalls a time she went there in second grade, on a Scared Straight-style field trip. It was gross and dark and scary.
- Alex pretends to be a guard and leads her through the hallways of the Crypts.
- They stop to visit Alex's dad along the way. And by dad, we mean tombstone in a courtyard with his dad's name on it. A moment of silence, if you will.
- Alex leads Lena to Ward Six, where all the "lifers" are held.
- A gross guard named Frank gives them a bunch of trouble. He's not normally the guard there. The guard on duty is normally a sympathizer Alex is buddies with, but that guy was, um, reassigned after a recent breakout.
- When they finally get to Cell 118, they discover that it's not just the cell where Lena's mother was held… it's the cell where the breakout occurred. "In the lower half of one wall, she had traced the word so many times in such enormous script—LOVE, each letter the size of a child— and gouged so deeply into the stone that the O has formed a tunnel, and she has gotten out" (22.93).
- Okay, that's not a Shawshank Redemption caliber plan, digging a tunnel to escape this prison thing without even attempting to hide it. But it looks like it worked anyway.
- Discovering that her mother is alive, but missing, leaves Lena feeling "lost and found and lost again, all at once" (23.4).
- She's upset, obviously. And she cries and argues with Alex for about six pages until he says the only thing that can make her feel better: "I love you" (23.45).
- She instantly forgets about all the pain caused by her mother, and she starts planning to run away into the Wilds with Alex. Too bad she'll have to leave Hana and her little cousin, Grace, behind. She'll get over it; all she needs is Alex. Alex. Alex. Alex.
- They plan to leave in seven days.
- Lena tells Hana that she an Alex are planning to run away into the Wilds.
- She offers to take Hana with them, but Hana doesn't want to give up the fairly cushy life she has. Guess she's done with parties and all now, after that last one almost killed her.
- They have one last fun run together before saying goodbye.
- Lena meets Alex at 37 Brooks, but it's locked.
- Alex shows up late, and he doesn't understand why it's locked. He didn't lock it.
- Before they realize what's going on, Regulators jump out and club Lena like a baby seal.
- She wakes up at home, where her Aunt Carol and sister, Rachel, tell her they've moved the date of her procedure up. They want to get rid of the deliria before it gets worse.
- Lena, obviously, does not take this well. She tries to escape, but Carol and Rachel drug her water and tie her down.
- Hana comes to visit Lena. They can't explicitly talk about what's going on, because Carol and Rachel are listening in.
- Speaking in complicated girl-code, Lena manages to convince Hana to put a note for Alex in the Governor's statue. Now all she has to do is wait for Alex to save her.
- Lena's been waiting all day for Alex to save her, and she worries that he's not going to show.
- "I just have to believe that Alex will come and rescue me—like in one of the fairy tales he told me" (27.5).
- Lena decides that if Alex doesn't come and save her, she'll just kill herself. "I'd rather die loving Alex than live without him" (27.31). What?
- Thankfully, Lena doesn't have to end it all. Her little cousin Grace unties her, and Lena jumps out the bedroom window where Alex is waiting on a motorbike.
- They speed away as all hell breaks loose. Helicopters, people with guns, and helicopters with guns pursue them.
- Alex has a plan: drive the motorbike into the fence to short-circuit it, which will give them precious seconds to climb over the fence and escape.
- After a spectacular crash, Lena clambers over the fence and waits for Alex to drop beside her.
- He doesn't.
- She looks back through the fence, and "Alex's T-shirt is red […] soaked in blood" (27.123). Yep. They shot him.
- Before the Regulators swarm him, he mouths one word to Lena: "Run" (27.126).
- So she does. No time for a denouement. She runs.
- The end.