by Sarah Dessen
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I think Dreamland was one of the first Sarah Dessen novels I ever read, and i know it was one of the books that got me into contemporary.
A little background:
When I was in about seventh grade, I became obsessed with the topic of Domestic Violence. I was fascinated by the family dynamics of an abusive relationship, curious about what drove someone to be abusive, and saddened as to how clueless people were about the topic. As a result of my curiosity, I went through my first phase of reading/watching all things Domestic violence.
(Sidenote: I started writing a story that had it as the theme. Hmm, I should probably pick that back up.)
Anyway, I knew from watching Tina Turner’s movie about her journey and reading several books, I knew domestic violence happened to adults. However, I still didn’t understand why people did it or why they stayed, much less how other people could be so clueless. I also had no idea domestic violence happened in teenage relationships which brings me to the book.
When I first heard about Sarah Dessen, I was hesitant to read her books because let’s face it, I just wanted to read fantasy. Anyway, I decided to give her books a chance, and Dreamland was one of the first contemporary books I picked up.
When I found out the book dealt with domestic violence in a teenage relationship, I was curious about it as I’d never read a book like it. At the same time, I was nervous because I didn’t want to see the topic under represented or overdramatized. luckily, I really liked the book.
I picked it up again this year during one of my many Dessen phases and wanted to see how my perspective changed from when I first read it in ninth grade, and let me tell you, it changed quite a lot.
Let me start off by saying that if you haven’t read a Sarah Dessen book, you need to drop everything and pick one up right now. Seriously though, Dessen’s books are amazing in that they deal with tough subjects without sugar coating or dramatizing them. To me, this is one of the signs of a great book because it keeps the tough subjects visible while allowing me to connect with the character and their situation without having gone through it.
Dreamland isn’t JUST a book about violence in teenage relationships, it’s about the pressure siblings or friends feel to be like their other sibling/friend, the overwhelming feeling of loneliness teens feel when they think they’re under a shadow, and how a family works through all of these relationships. It’s about learning to live past the strain parents put on teenagers to keep doing more and more or to be like someone else. But most of all, it’s about appreciating, and paying attention to, our surroundings.
Dreamland is a great book that explores a Caitlin’s journey as a teenager as she finds who she really is. To show Caitlin’s journey, Dessen employs various symbols and illusions. The most prominent symbol I found was that of light and darkness. Whether these symbols were intensional or not, they were very striking and helped add to the deeper meaning of the story. The darkness in Dessen’s book symbolizes Caitlin’s descent into “dreamland” with the mermaids creating the illusion to T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I can’t go into further detail about the symbolism because spoilers, but trust me, Dessen intricately weaves the symbolism and allusion into the story up until the very end.
However, This book was not perfect. Even though the literary devices used in the book were great, I felt Caitlin and Cas–her sister–were a little hard to connect with. I don’t know if it was just because the book was short, but I think the bond between the two sisters, the relationship between them and their parents, and their individual relationships with their parents could have been expanded. That said, I thought Dessen did a great job with the book and with tackling the subject of domestic violence.
Overall, Dreamland was a great book that explored violence in a teen relationship as well as family dynamic and the pressures teenagers feel to be someone they’re not.