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.