Review: Dreamland

Review: DreamlandDreamland by Sarah Dessen
Published by Speak on May 11, 2004
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 250
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
three-stars

Wake up, Caitlin

Ever since she started going out with Rogerson Biscoe, Caitlin seems to have fallen into a semiconscious dreamland where nothing is quite real. Rogerson is different from anyone Caitlin has ever known. He's magnetic. He's compelling. He's dangerous. Being with him makes Caitlin forget about everything else--her missing sister, her withdrawn mother, her lackluster life. But what happens when being with Rogerson becomes a larger problem than being without him?

First Sentence: “My sister Cass ran away the morning of my sixteenth birthday.”

Review:
Whoa. This was different. I’ve read two Dessen books prior to this one, Just Listen and This Lullaby. I very much enjoyed both of them, and, based on my experiences with them, I cataloged Sarah Dessen’s fiction as intermediate contemporaries, balancing dark issues with optimism and sweet romance. Thus, I found the fact that they repackaged all of her books to look like shiny, happy summer reads odd. Well, it’s odder still, since Dreamland is dark all the way through, depressing almost in its entirety.

As in The Sky Is Everwhere by Jandy Nelson, we begin with a girl living in the shadow of her perfect older sister. In this case, however, the older sister isn’t dead, merely gone, run away to who knows where. Caitlin has always used her sister as a bit of an excuse not to excel or be special, knowing she could not measure up, and, without Cass around, Caitlin doesn’t have any clue who to be.

In the absence of Cass, Caitlin’s overprotective mother switches her focus to the remaining daughter. When Cass makes the cheerleading team, having been pressed to audition by her steamrolling best friend, Rina, her mother gets involved the same way she always did for Rina. Nothing cheers Caitlin, though. She both misses Cass and relishes the idea that now maybe she will shine for a change, but has no idea how to do that. The reader can feel Caitlin’s lack of direction and disconnection from the world.

In her continuing search to be her own person and do things Cass never did, Caitlin begins dating a bad boy. Now, you know all those popular books these days about heroines dating bad boys with hearts of gold, who make their girlfriends into better people? This is NOT one of those. Rogerson Biscoe most definitely is a bad boy. He deals drugs, bosses Caitlin around, and completely monopolizes her life. Dessen shows the attraction such a boy possesses, while also conveying a definite message. The portrayal of their relationship is realistic and utterly horrifying. Rather than helping her become her own person, Rogerson lets her live for him instead; Caitlin remains a shell of a person.

Much as I love Dessen’s writing, I do not feel this is one of her best novels. For one thing, I think the messages might have gone down better with a little bit more breadth of emotion. Pretty much the only feelings I got from this were sadness and hopelessness. Dark fiction works best with some other emotions juxtaposed to really set off the tragedy of the situation and to make everything feel more real.

Also, I had a really hard time accepting that her family, her neighbors, and Rina all failed to notice her downward spiral. The girl was stoned all of the time, constantly at the beck and call of her boyfriend, lost weight, and was doing perpetually worse in class, among other things. Her mother may have been busy trying to get Cass back, but I think she would still have noticed something. Rina seemed mostly to forget about Caitlin for much of the novel. These reactions just did not seem true to the characters.

Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland is an unrelentingly dark story of a girl struggling to find her own identity. If you are tired of all of the romanticized bad boys, this story will appease.

Favorite Quote:

When you left it was like there was this huge gap to fill, but instead of spreading wide enough to do it I just fell right in, and I’m still falling. Like I’m half-asleep, and I can’t wake up, can’t wake up. . . .

10 responses to “Review: Dreamland”

  1. Giselle says:

    Oh wow I would never have guessed this was Sarah by the cover alone. Her covers are always so cute and pretty-romance-y. Good to know she’s branching out, though, I hear she’s a great author. This one sounds really god! Finally, we have a relationship with a bad boy that makes sense! Those frilly bad boys with a soft center are just not real life! Plus they send a message that bad boys can be changed into sweethearts O_o

    I’ve never read a Dessen book so I have to get to it! This one does sound a little depressing though so I’d have to make sure I’m in the mood for it. (I totally just typoed “tit”. Ha!)

    • Christina says:

      They did at least make an effort to show with the cover how much darker this one is. She is fantastic. I like her writing, and she always has vibrant characters, in my experience.

      Yeah, this one’s very much not that, and was refreshing for that alone. They’re not all redeemable folks.

      I’d also recommend both of the ones I’ve already read.

  2. You know I always see the Dessen books at the bookstore and think that they are happy little books that would annoy me because everyone is just so damn perfect. But I guess that isn’t the case at all, this sounds depressing… which sounds AWESOME! I think I could really love this. I am curious if no one noticing her downward fall would bother me as it did you. I will be giving this one a go, thanks for featuring it!

    • Christina says:

      I hate what they do to her covers, because they really don’t fit the books. Or, they sort of do, but only the happy parts. This is probably her most depressing cover, maybe because there were no happy parts.

  3. Renae says:

    I still haven’t read a Dessen novel. For a professed fan of YA contemporary, that is a failure. I suck.

    Anyway. Gah, Disappearing Parent Syndrome is the worst. It really seems like authors give parents too little credit. I think even the most busy of parents/teachers/friends will notice if someone is stoned all the time. At least, someone would probably ask.

    Glad you more or less liked this one, though it’s off the list for my First-Ever Dessen Novel Ever.

    • Christina says:

      Ha, there are too many books out there for us to have read them all, no matter what big fans we are!

      Exactly. Her mom definitely would have noticed that she was missing. Because of that, this was my least favorite of the three.

  4. Estelle says:

    I’ve had this book recommended to be a few times. Dessen is sort of a miss for me if I read too many of her books around the same time, because I think the message is ultimately the same. I do love the cover and the title of this one… I’ll probably get to it at some point just to say I read it, but eh.

    Have you read What Happens Next? There are similar spirals and people notice. Just like good friends and an attentive mothers would. Ya know? You’re so right that that just doesn’t seem realistic.

    • Christina says:

      This wouldn’t be the first I would recommend, but it did have a very different feel from her others, so maybe you would like it more?

      I’ve heard What Happens Next is wonderful. I’m glad to hear that people actually notice. I don’t feel like the mc did a great job covering it up, and it took forever for anyone to really question anything.

  5. Bookworm1858 says:

    This is my favorite “early Dessen” (meaning pre-This Lullaby) when I feel like she was still kind of trying to work out her style. The books after This Lullaby are more Dessen-esque to me (does that make sense? Maybe only if you’ve read all the Dessen books?)

  6. Bea Tejano says:

    My favorite of Dessen’s is This Lullaby:) I have yet to read this book!:) It sounds great:D

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