It’s just a few weeks until the Queen of Contemporary YA, Sarah Dessen, has a new book hitting shelves! While eagerly waiting for my copy of Once and For All to arrive, I’m joining Penguin Teen’s #ReadADessen campaign for week 2 reviewing on of my FAVORITE Dessen novels of all time- Dreamland.
Note: I was provided a finished copy of Dreamland by Penguin Teen to read, review, and feature on my blog as a #PRHPartner.Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
Also by this author: Saint Anything, Just Listen, What Happened to Goodbye, Along for the Ride, Lock and Key, Once and for All, The Rest of the Story, The Moon and More
Published by Speak on May 11th 2004
Pages: 250 •Goodreads
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 Being with him makes Caitlin forget about everything else--her missing sister, her withdrawn mother, her lackluster life.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?
Many, many years ago I read Dreamland for the first time. It was one of my first, if not THE first, Sarah Dessen novel I picked up when the summers were long and I was still at the mercy of the public library for all of my vacation entertainment. I took it home (compelled largely by the mysterious title and purple-ombré cover) and was sucked into a story so addictive and yet so scary that I couldn’t put it down. As a young teenager, it was the first book, YA or otherwise, that featured dating violence, and Dessen handled the topic masterfully in a way that both cautioned me and compelled me.
When I returned to Dreamland for my reread nearly 10 years later, I found myself just as hypnotized by the story as I initially was. I binged it in less than a day (something I don’t often make time to do with all of the adulting I have to do getting in the way) and I think that’s the best way to experience Dreamland- all at once, without breaks to stop and think about it, to really ride through Caitlin’s journey in the same exhilarating and terrifying nonstop rush that she experiences. A shorter YA novel at less than 300 pages, Dessen pulled me so deeply into Caitlin’s character that the book felt much, much longer and covered an impressive amount of both main character complexity while also providing meaningful insights into the characters who are always hovering in Caitlin’s peripheral consciousness (her mother and her vicariously forming an identity through her daughters, the sister who’s absence seems to be larger than her presence ever was, etc.)
There are also so many messages and themes in Dessen’s story that I picked up on now that I definitely didn’t get during my first read all of those years ago. There’s a strong undercurrent of feminist thinking that runs through the book that builds a foundation of irony and also despair for Caitlin and Rogerson’s relationship troubles. There’s the portrayal of perpetual cycles of abuse and dysfunction that trickle down to the teenage characters’ relationships and actions (such as with Catilin’s BFF Rina, who is always involved with way too many guys and relationship drama- there’s a small mention in the books of how her mother has had multiple husbands and readers can see how that dyfunctional relationship building trickles down to Rina). The way the book is structured also felt more meaningful to me this time around, with Part 1 being titled “Cass” for Caitlin’s sister who leaves at the beginning of the novel, Part 2 titled “Rogerson,” and only the shortest and smallest part of the story at the very end, Part 3, being titled after the protagonist herself, “Caitlin.”
Overall: What sets Dreamland apart from any other Dessen novel, and why it has always stood out as one of my favorites despite its heavy subject matter, is the extremely unique narrative tone it has for a contemporary novel. Like it’s title suggests, Caitlin spends the book submerging more and more into her self-conscious, her Dreamland, as she’s consumed by her relationship and the other elements of her life fade from her focus. Dessen’s writing evoked the same emotions in me as a reader, making me feel so sucked in and central to Caitlin’s story, in a way that’s almost hypnotizing. This novel is definitely Sarah’s darkest and told as if in an almost dreamlike manner, and while hard to read at times it focuses the plot around some very, very important messages. I haven’t read anything quite like this from Sarah again, and I’d love to see her return to this writing style in the future.
#ReadADessen Week 2 Schedule