Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

When Caitlin O'Koren's sister Cass runs away the morning of Caitlin's sixteenth birthday, leaving Caitlin, her hurt and perplexed parents, and her glowing future at Yale behind, Caitlin is lost and more than a little confused. All at once she is suddenly out from beneath her perfect sister's shadow and able to exist on her own terms. Yet, Caitlin finds that though she can now define herself, none of the people who matter are really watching. Cass is gone, and everyone else is so preoccupied with her sister even in her absence that Caitlin is just as overshadowed as ever.

Soon Caitlin finds herself traveling down some unwise and unintended paths as she tries to move forward in her life without her sister blazing the path ahead of her. She gives in to her best friend's pleas for her to join the cheerleading squad, something she starts out disliking and ends up loathing. She turns her back on the boring football star and begins dating the dark and dangerous Rogerson Biscoe. She begins smoking the drugs that Rogerson spends most of his time dealing. By the time things really go south, Caitlin is sure it's too late to get back to good. She's locked up in a nightmarish dreamland that she's powerless to escape from.

Dreamland features the excellent writing and important message that I associate with Dessen from books like The Truth About Forever. While The Truth About Forever was one of my favorites from last year, parts of Dreamland didn't quite click for me. (This part might get a little spoiler-y, so do tread carefully if that matters to you.) For the most part, Caitlin is a sympathetic and believable young narrator. It's easy to see how lost she is after Cass abruptly departs. It's easy to believe that she might get pressured into joining cheerleading and even into the party scene. However, she seems to fall for Rogerson a little too easily. She's lost and confused when she meets and lusts after him, but not so lost and confused that it seemed a believable turn of events that she would fall head over heels for him when their first "date" consists mostly of his driving around selling drugs to other teenagers at parties. I failed to see what there was to love about Rogerson from the outset, and it seems that fact made the story less believable overall. When he begins to show the rest of his true colors, the story suddenly becomes believable again, and my issues with it, for most part, cease.

Despite my occasional quibble with it, it's obvious that Dreamland is an important book exploring an important topic using a well-written story to warn about the dangers of abusive relationships. Dessen's exploration of Caitlin's growing feeling of isolation, her inability to break her silence about what's happening to her, and her guilt and shame over the situation she's allowed herself to fall into paint a realistic picture of how women of all ages become trapped in abusive relationships. It's a cautionary tale for all of us, a reminder to all women to be cautious about who they allow themselves to trust and to be vigilant when it comes to our own loved ones who might just be silently fighting a losing battle against abuse before our very eyes.


  1. Sometimes I get the impression that Dessen is an "issues" writer, which makes me less keen to read her book despite the fact that i liked the one I read.

  2. Wow, I love books that explore issues like that. I know a lot of people who love Dessen's work - I've just got to try one of her books.

  3. I've seen this author's name pop up periodically in the blogosphere but I haven't read anything by her. From your description of the book, I can see why you'd say it's an important one. It does sound like it. I can see how Caitlin might fall for someone like Roger under the circumstances, but not having read the book, I imagine you know more about the character and how realistic it was for her to do so. Thank you for such an insightful review, Megan!

  4. I read this one a year or two ago, and I agree with you in a few points. I generally enjoy Sarah Dessen, but this wasn't my favorite of hers. I didn't care for Rogerson at ALL- I didn't get what was so attractive about him, but I understood that some girls just go for the bad boy (even though I don't get that mindset at ALL!!!!). But the depiction of Caitlin and Rogerson's relationship was pretty spot-on, I thought, especially when Caitlin didn't leave him. Her reluctance to leave was really well portrayed and it's definitely an issue that teen girls need to be aware of. Books are so great for that. Wonderful review!

  5. Sounds very powerful. Thanks for the great review.

  6. Amanda - Yeah, I think she has developed that issue author stigma, but I don't think that's always the case. Honestly, I don't mind an "issue" novel as long as the plot and characters aren't playing second fiddle to the issue. Even though this is certainly an issue book, I think it still tells a story worth reading that isn't *totally* overshadowed by the issue. Which one did you read? I loved The Truth About Forever, which didn't seem near as issue-y to me as this one might.

    Kathy - Definitely give her a try! This is only my second, but both that I have read are good and The Truth About Forever was one of my favorites from last year. I'm sure I'll be looking for more!

    Wendy - I definitely get the lost girl going for the bad guy thing, but I think the initial scenes in the book where Caitlin is falling for Rogerson don't even paint a very pretty picture of him from the moment she meets him. It's pretty easy for an author to make *me* fall for a fictional guy (even a bad one!), and nothing about this character drew me, so I had a hard time seeing how he drew *her.* I had a much harder time buying her initial attraction to him than I did her getting trapped in the relationship (which is the more important part anyway).

    Stephanie - Glad someone gets what I'm talking about. I totally agree that the depiction of the relationship was very realistic and convincing, but I just didn't get that initial attraction. It's like instead of fleshing out his character and making him someone a lost, naive girl could fall in love with despite his many flaws, Dessen wanted to rush along to the "good" stuff (and by good, I mean bad, if you know what I mean). Nonetheless, I don't think the book suffers to much for it, but I was a bit perplexed when their relationship began so abruptly and without much of a good reason. But then, hey, I've never been that girl that goes for the bad boy either, so what do I know? ;-)

    Marie - Definitely powerful! When the plot climax came, I was very near tears.