Review: Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

Dreamland - Sarah Dessen

Pre-read: Yeah, I'm re-reading this book for this year because apparently I'm on a Sarah Dessen kick from my library. I'm really looking forward to it.

Post-read: Dude, I'm still shaking even after I've turned the final page. Much of "Dreamland" hit spot on with respect to the feelings of isolation that Caitlyn felt with things going on with her family and friend circles, and the abuse she suffered just catapulted that strife into the stratosphere.

I really appreciated the chance to re-read this. More reflections to follow in the full review.

Full review:

"Dreamland" was my first read by Sarah Dessen quite a number of years ago, and I recently took the opportunity to re-read it. I remembered this being an emotional read, and I'll admit picking it up again provided me with much the same experience as I did the first time I read it, with a few caveats.

Caitlyn's a young woman with quite a number of struggles on her plate. Having a sister (Cass) who abandoned the family and aspirations towards Yale to join a boyfriend on a talk show mimicking Jerry Springer, Caitlyn's struggles are mostly unseen by her parents, who hope for her Cass's return. Caitlyn also struggles in her social circles at school, joining the cheerleading team (which she's reluctant to do, but finds herself in the mix of things anyway) and becoming a fixation of her mother's in the absence of Cass. It's in this time, between the grief of Cass's departure and parents' distancing that Caitlyn meets Robertson. Robertson seems to give her moments of happiness despite some stern rumors and horrible events that occur to him at home. Yet when she ends up on the other end of his wildly shifting moods and violence, Caitlyn's both stunned and lost to the cycle of his actions against her.

I struggled a little in the beginning of the book with some parts of Caitlyn's characterization, but I did end up caring about her as she misses Cass's presence and feeling the tension of the household that remains in Cass's absence. The way her thoughts come across in the cycle of Robertson's abuse and her desperation were palpable and intense, especially in the second half of the story when people start to notice Caitlyn's change in behavior, clothes, and demeanor. The inclusion of the dream journal and how she enters this state of suspension/non-reality/fear was also well described.

But I longed for a little more backstory on Rogerson (whose family and issues kinda got dropped by the wayside after a time, despite his cycle of abuse against Caitlyn. You'd think some of his issues and how that contributed to his behavior would be explored more, despite a brief showing) as well as some of the other characters who seemed interesting on the surface in Caitlyn's circles, but somehow could've had a little better balance in the mix of the ongoing plot.

It's definitely one that I would recommend to readers who like YA in the spectrum of tough subject matters, with some interesting characters and slice of life pinpoints, though I think it could've had a bit more development and even pacing through the work to make the read more rounded.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.