Sixteen-year-old Caitlin O’Koran’s older sister Cass has just run away to live with her boyfriend in New York instead of starting her freshman year at Yale like she had planned. And Caitlin is stuck home with their parents, trying to fill in the spaces that Cass left behind. So she becomes a cheerleader, because that’s what Cass did, but when she suffers from a fall Caitlin decides that she wants to do the opposite of everything Cass would have done. So instead of dating football player Mike Evans, she gets involved with stoner/bad boy Rogerson Biscoe. And while things with Rogerson are great at first, soon Caitlin’s life is focused around Rogerson, his bad moods, and the pot he provides her with to numb her feelings. She slips into a dreamland, ignoring everything about the downward spiral her life has become, realizing that if she faces what she’s really going through she’ll be forced to actually do something about it.
I’ve said, many times, how Sarah Dessen is one of the best YA authors out there, in my opinion. And with Dreamland, she completely cinched the title of my favorite YA author. I connected so deeply with Caitlin, I wanted desperately for her to figure things out and get better, I can’t quite explain the emotions the book produced in me.
This novel deals with very serious subjects, and in fact it’s more serious in nature than most of Dessen’s other books. Domestic violence and teen drug use are not subjects that often come up in her novels. But for me, the honesty and the rawness of the subjects of this novel is what made the book so believable and memorable. I’ve explained before here that I’m no stranger to intimate partner violence, so Dreamland resonated with me in such a real way. I felt what Caitlin felt, I held my breath when she held her breath and prayed for relief when she prayed for relief because, sadly enough, I’ve been there myself. But even if you cannot relate personally to the abuse Caitlin suffers, I know that the book will touch you. Caitlin is written in such a way as to make you believe her, to make you feel for her and hold your own breath until someone finds out about what Rogerson is doing to her.
It still amazes me how Dessen manages to write such real teen girls, time and time again. Just like the characters in the rest of her books, Caitlin was damaged, honest, and so believable. It’s amazing how I understood Caitlin so well, even taking the abuse out of the picture, the things she was dealing with in regards to her sister’s leaving and the pressure she felt from her parents and her friends, I understood and believed in her completely.
If you have not read a Sarah Dessen novel before… what the HECK are you waiting for? And if you have, Dreamland is a must-read as I think it is one of her best novels.