Thursday, May 23, 2013

Re-Read Review: Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

I grew up on Sarah Dessen.  I discovered my favorite of her novels, Someone Like You, early in her career and proceeded to follow her closely for the rest of my teen years and into my early twenties.  I never thought of her novels as "issue books" as so many contemporary readers seem to label them.  I just thought of them as realistic portrayals of teens embroiled in family and romantic turmoil...with one exception - DreamlandDreamland is so different from Dessen's other novels.  It is her fourth published novel and is the only one that deals most directly, in my opinion, with abuse in all its forms.  For someone with no sisters, Dessen describes the relationships between sisters in all their complexity very well.*  This is the first thing that struck me as I was re-reading Dreamland.  Caitlin admires her older sister Cass but also has complex feelings of jealousy and guilt regarding her sister's success.  As the oldest, Cass shoulders immense familial responsibility, and when she shirks that, Caitlin is left to fill Cass' very large shoes.  The pressure threatens to drown her.  Desperate for a reprieve, Caitlin turns to Rogerson Biscoe.  She is immediately immersed in a world of substance abuse that shrouds her real life in a dreamland fog.  Caitlin continues to float along in this dreamland, waiting for her sister to return, until Rogerson's protectiveness turns violent.  Suddenly Caitlin is jerked from her dreamland into a very real world of verbal and physical abuse in which she must constantly be on her guard.  Caitlin's fear of Rogerson and the way her world narrows to just his black eyes and his fist is palpable.  Caitlin more than any other Dessen character evokes a visceral reaction in me, and I cried for her when her mother discovered her bruises.  I cried for her when, against all reason, she still misses Rogerson.  I cried for her as she began to piece together the broken girl she had become, and I cried hardest of all when the last piece of her puzzle, her sister Cass, finally returns to her.  Dreamland is the issue book every new Dessen reader fears, but it is an extremely powerful exploration of abuse and the support system that can help the victim reach the other side.

*So I just googled Dessen, and she does have a brother.

Other Dessen Re-Read Reviews can be found below:

Just Listen
The Truth About Forever
This Lullaby
Someone Like You

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