Overall Impression: A gut-wrenching portrayal of a troubled teen. Emotional, frustrating and heartbreaking.
I couldn’t say that I enjoyed this book, that would be the wrong word considering the subject matter. Was I heavily emotionally impacted by this book though? Absolutely.
I love Sarah Dessen, she’s a great author and deals with teen issues in an intelligent and sensitive manner. Her books almost have an sense of wistful familiarity for me now, each time I open a new novel it doesn’t take long before I relax into her writing style and escape into her stories with compelling characters. I always know what to expect to an extent and know I’m going to be in for a good read. Dreamland was equally good, although I was surprised to find that it was a little darker than some of her other books and somewhat more unpredictable!
Please Note: I don’t normally include spoilers in my reviews but I can’t really talk about my thoughts on Dreamland in any detail without giving away a key plot point, so proceed at your own peril!
Unable to deal with the family fallout when her elder sister runs away from home, Catlin finds herself withdrawing into a private world. A dreamland where everything – and everyone – can be kept at arm’s length. And a place where her damaging relationship with her boyfriend Rogerson, need never be faced up to, or discussed…
When Cass flee’s from a life she feels is not her own, full of expectations and Yale leaflets she leaves nothing behind but a note and a birthday present for her sister, Catlin. Lost and confused Catlin finds herself in a weird form of emotional purgatory, her parents are obsessed with finding Cas, a subject which dominates every hour of every day, as if she isn’t already obscured enough by her sisters shadow. Determined to make a change Catlin tries out for cheerleading, just about the only club her sister wasn’t part of. A choice which seems to spur her mother out of her zombie state. Soon she is being smothered by questions and expectations and begins to understand her sister’s world. Then Catlin meets the confident, rebellious Rogerson and falls head over heels. He leads her into a world of drugs and isolation but also love and understanding; at last she feels at the centre of someone’s universe.
So when Rogerson slaps her across the face he couldn’t have meant it, right?
Sarah Dessen’s writing style is impressive as always, she manages to construct a realistic and individual teenage voice which makes her stand out in comparison to other contemporary authors. I love the way she slowly builds her characters one layer at at time so by the end of the book you really know them inside and out – their flaws, dreams and quirky personality traits. She is great at subtly building up character’s thought processes explaining how they get from A to B, this is especially noticeable in Dreamland where we slowly experience Catlin’s withdrawal from her family and friends, into the arms of Rogerson. It also paints the harsh reality of why she stays with him, even when it isn’t healthy. This book was so emotionally draining that I would often feel like I really needed a drink after reading it!
There are so many important issues dealt with in this book that it is difficult to say with certainty what it is about, there’s pressure, parental relationships and drugs but I think what stays with you most, is Dessen’s portrayal of domestic abuse.
I didn’t have a clue what this book was about when I began reading, I avoided looking at the blurb so I would be pleasantly surprised and spent the first half of the book vaguely intrigued but not enamored. The characters seemed less lively than her usual books and the pace slow without anything of much interest happening. I often put Dreamland down with a weird sense of numbness and indifference. It was only when I got two thirds of the way through that everything started to kick off, and boy did it kick off!
When Rogerson first hit Catlin everything prior to that moment clicked into place to reveal a startlingly well thought out novel with an incredibly clever build up, giving me a new appreciation for what I had previously considered, in lack of better words, ‘meh’. Dessen’s portrayal of Catlin’s thought process is fantastic. When it comes to domestic abuse I’ve heard the ‘well they’re silly why don’t they just leave’ comment a lot, but Dessen shines a light on the other side, the grey patches. For every punch there is an equally tender touch.
Another strong aspect of this novel is its commentary of parental expectations, a topic that I have always felt strongly about. As a student I have come across a lot of people that have felt the weight of their parents eagle eyes when it comes to education and their future, luckily I am not one of those people. Again I felt the author dealt with this excellently, especially the way Catlin and her sister feel like they are living lives that are not their own. Meanwhile Catlin feels the burden of believing she has to live up to her sister’s achievements and I loved how even the way the book was divided reflected this. The first section is labeled ‘Prologue’, but the second ‘Cass’ which takes up 98% of the book, even though this bit is about Catlin’s journey it is labeled Cass because Catlin still feels everything she does is affected by her sister’s identity rather than her own. Only the last section is labeled ‘Me’ once she gets help and is able to slowly find herself. At least, this is the way I interpreted it anyway. 🙂
All the characters in Dreamland were great and three dimensional. I couldn’t say I had warm affection for any of them, but I did find them fascinating. Catlin (as you can probably already tell) had a large amount of depth with her self identity issues and exploration of drugs, cheerleading and first love. Catlin’s mother was also vivid with her obsession with projects and keeping busy. In Cass’s absence she takes up collecting dolls as if to fill the blank space her daughter has left behind and I thought this was a great touch revealing a lot about her character. Rogerson I never took to even before he showed his true colours, but I had fun trying to work him out. Corinna was my favourite character though, dropping everything in her life for the man she loved at first seemed romantic, but it is not long before the cracks begin to show.
I did feel like a lot of the background characters were very shallow with the simple task of moving the plot along, but in a book already taking on so many complex characters this is understandable. Although I swear if I come across even one more horrendous best friend stereotype along the lines of she’s-so-beautiful-all-guys-love-her-it’s-not-fair-sassy-best-friend with no character motivation I swear I am going to blow my top. COME ON PEOPLE. GEEZ.
Dessen herself notes she has never seen Dreamland as an ‘issue’ book and that she wanted Catlin’s voice to be the main anchor of the novel. While this is true, I don’t feel it is possible to separate the two because you cannot talk about one without mentioning the other. I can’t deny that what I loved most about Dreamland was the issues it tackled, but this was made more enjoyable through Catlin’s narrative. I would recommend this book to females or males 14+ who are interested in the themes of the novel and what goes on psychologically behind them. 🙂
Writing Style: 4/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes!
Book Cover: http://www.qbd.com.au/product/9780340854600-Bite_Dreamland_by_Sarah_Dessen.htm