May 17, 2012

Review: Dreamland

By: Sarah Dessen
Published: May 2000 by Speak
Format: Paperback, 250 pages
First Reviewed: June 2011
Buy: Barnes & Noble//Books-A-Million//Amazon//Book Depository
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Wake up, Caitlin.

Strange, sleepy Rogerson, with his long brown dreads and brilliant green eyes, had seemed to Caitlin to be an open door. With him she could be anybody, not just the second-rate shadow of her older sister, Cass. But now she is drowning in the vacuum Cass left behind when she turned her back on her family's expectations by running off with a boyfriend. Caitlin wanders in a dream land of drugs and a nightmare of Rogerson's sudden fists, lost in her search for herself.
Why do so many girls allow themselves to get into abusive relationships--and what keeps them there? In this riveting novel, Sarah Dessen searches for understanding and answers. Caught in a trap that is baited with love and need, Caitlin must frantically manage her every action to avoid being hit by the hands that once seemed so gentle. All around her are women who care--best friends, mother, sister, mentor--but shame keeps her from confiding in any of them, especially Cass, her brilliant older sister, whose own flight from home had seemed to point the way.

Rating: 4/5

It seems as though I'm the last YA book lover on the planet to read a Sarah Dessen novel, and now I'm hitting myself for waiting so long. What in the world was my problem? Anyway, I own three Dessen novels, so I decided to start with this one because the premise is one I haven't read before. Knowing this kind of stuff happens everyday in real life, I wanted to really feel it. While I loved the book overall, I just didn't feel the realism in some areas.

Consider me a new resident of Dessen Fanland. Aside from my nitpicks with adverb usage in the beginning and the obsessive colon usage, I have zero complaints. Beautiful prose, personality-filled voice, realistic dialogue, and a narrative that tells a story in such a way that I couldn't help but just keep turning the page. Dessen knows what she's doing. That's more than clear. I love a writer who can make me forget the writing and fall into the story. This doesn't happen much, as I'm constantly editing a book. I think about how much I adore her writing in this and wonder how much she's improved. This book is over ten years old. Honestly, I don't have much to say about Ms. Dessen's writing. It was refreshing and set in a perfect tone for the story.

Creating realistic characters like Caitlin, who's a victim of abuse by her boyfriend, it's hard to make them believable and relatable for readers who have never dealt with anything similar before. I think Dessen did an overall great job with Caitlin's character. A girl always hidden behind her sister no matter what she does, a girl with realistic loves and hates and thoughts, and a girl who falls so easily into a trap. The way Dessen made Caitlin's transformation happen was very realistic. I watched her change and felt her change, but where I lost a little bit of the characterization was in the emotion. The raw, deep emotion that I was waiting for. It was almost there, but never truly made it to the pit of my stomach. So I cared for her, but I didn't really hurt for her, like I would have liked.

As for Rogerson, I felt he was an incredibly crafted character. Instead of just seeing an abuser, we were given an abused abuser. That's how it is in the real world for the most part, and Dessen made that clear for him. Which made me not only hate him in the way we were supposed to, but also feel for him in the way that he's from a broken home where hitting is what he knows. Also with him, I watched his development, as he fell further under drugs and further into the angry state that was bound to surface even if he never met Caitlin. He was the most real in this story, in my opinion.

And for the minor characterization, I loved it. Dessen gave us, not only real characters, but unique characters. We didn't get the same family dynamic that we get in every other book, or the same friends that we get in every story. We got people from different walks of life, each one of them giving something to Caitlin's life in so many different ways. Overall, great characterization.

I'm very much conflicted on final thoughts for the overall story. There's so much of it that hits you after you finish. This happens all the time. Girls are beaten by boyfriends, who they're in love with and refuse to leave. They're scared and hopeless, yet even though they realize that what's happening to them is wrong, they won't leave for several different reasons. Dessen captured that conflicted young heart very, very well. The sudden attacks, the shifts in personalities, the affect Rogerson has on Caitlin, it's all there, as realistic as it can be. But where I had a few problems was with some of the outside affects and with the speed of things.

I realize that people can fall in love as quickly as Rogerson and Caitlin had in this, however, it almost seemed too fast. I was actually a bit confused at first; it just didn't seem realistic. But once we were into the relationship, it became more real. My other problem (a minor spoiler) is with how Caitlin's smoking cigarettes and pot just seemed to go unnoticed by her parents and very close family friends (their neighbors). It's addressed about how they don't really pay attention to her and that they should have been, but with someone who pretty much turns into a "pothead," someone in that household would smell something on her or notice the eyes or when she's stoned. I think the fact that we're told that her parents don't focus on her much because of her missing sister, yet we're clearly shown a different side to that--that they are there--that had me a bit conflicted.

Other than those things, I really enjoyed the intensity and rawness of this. It had me in the story, not reading the story, and the relationship between Rogerson and Caitlin was developed perfectly, as where Caitlin's relationships with her friends.

Also, I loved the motifs in this and the connective repetition. It was refreshing, as we don't get much of this in YA anymore. It brought beauty to the dark places. Also, while I really enjoyed the way this was paced and the outcome, I think it would have been stronger with a more developed "meeting" portion between Rogerson and Caitlin, and a less developed Part Three to the book. Minor spoiler: Instead of seeing Caitlin in Evergreen, I would have liked to have just known she went there and ended when she came home. Between the last scene of Part Two and the last scene of the book, I felt the emotion drift away from me.

This was an overall fantastic read. Dessen handled this tough subject matter maturely and, for the most part, realistically. It brought a new understanding to those going through what Caitlin had and is also a reminder to how fragile the mind is. It was shown in both Rogerson and Caitlin. Gratefully, I'm now a Dessen fan, and I can't wait to read more of her novels.

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