Thursday, September 15, 2011

Book Review: DREAMLAND by Sarah Dessen

My local library loves me. Why? Because I check out books at least once a week and always return them promptly. Because I read them as if at any moment, they may self destruct in my hands. This makes my librarian happy. I keep her busy in this small town. Especially with Sarah Dessen novels. I just can't get enough of her stories. And my latest literary adventure, courtesy of Ms. Dessen, was DREAMLAND.

 *warning spoilers ahead!*

 DREAMLAND is a story of a teenage girl, Caitlin who is coping with her older sister Cassandra suddenly changing her parents' plans for her and moving away to New York with her boyfriend. Cassandra was always the over achiever, good at everything she did, and bound for Yale. Caitlin is left somewhat stunned from her sister's sudden absence, and having always been in her shadow, decides to forge her own path. She reluctantly tries out for the cheerleading squad under the coercion of her best friend, Rina. They both make the squad. Caitlin's mother is suddenly interested in her life, and has something to fill the void of Cassandra's sudden departure. Their mother resumes her position as schedule keeper, organizer and volunteer in Caitlin's extra curricular activities, much to Caitlin's chagrin.

Caitlin is going along with the motions of her life, and at least doing something that her sister never had. But she is bound to create an even more unique path for herself after meeting Rogerson at a car wash one night before a party. Something about him captivates her; his mystery, his dark green eyes and cool demeanor. She makes a choice, and rejects the chance to be the arm candy of a player on the football team she cheers for. Instead she walks onto a path she could never have imagined with Rogerson.

At first they get along well, and spend almost all of their extra time together. Although Caitlin finds out just why he does so much driving around, popping up at parties and community service. He sells pot and other drugs for extra cash. She begins to smoke pot with him here and there. She also witnesses a brutal encounter with Rogerson and his father, which results in Rogerson being physically assualted by his father. Caitlin does what she can to comfort him, and wants to make the hurt go away.

Time marches on, and they become closer to each other, as the physical side to their relationship becomes hotter and heavier. She is beginning to understand why Cassandra chose love over Yale. She has never felt like this before, and finds that she feels wonderful with him; like someone else entirely. 

Until one fateful afternoon, she pushes Rogerson's buttons the wrong way, and he strikes her across the face. Caitlin is stunned and doesn't know how he could do that; how he could change into someone else so suddenly. She is dazed but ends up excusing away his behavior and making up a story to her parents about her swollen and bruised face.

Eventually the beatings become more and more regular, and Rogerson takes to hitting her in places less obvious that she can cover up with clothing. She constantly worries about pleasing him so as not to set him off and face another beating. She can't keep up the pace of her life and her grades begin to slip, as do her efforts in cheerleading and her relationship with her best friend Rina. She smokes more and more pot to deal with the stress of her precarious life, constantly on edge and bracing for another beating. The secret is eating her alive, and inside she wishes someone would guess it and save her, because she is too ashamed to tell anyone.

Eventually it all comes to a head when a neighbor witnesses Rogerson beating her outside of her own house during a party her parents are throwing in the backyard. Caitlin then has to deal with the truth of what's been going on in her life, and letting go of Rogerson. It's a struggle for her to do it, but with her family and her best friend Rina there to support her, she makes it through to making herself whole again. Recreating herself from the fragmented person she had become.

This story was amazing, well written, and riveting to the end. I couldn't put this book down until I was done reading it. And it was especially meaningful for me because of my own sister. She was in an extremely abusive marriage for over 12 years, and many times I extended my hand to help her. Many times she turned away from me. I had a very hard time understanding why she stayed, and why she chose to live her life the way she did for all those years. But Sarah's poignant novel gave me a new perspective on the inner workings of a domestic abuse victim, and helped me to see why she stayed for so long. It wasn't all black and white for Caitlin, nor could it have been for my sister. I am thankful for the chance Sarah has given me to understand my beautiful sister that much more.  


(Oh and yes, she finally left the jerk 4 years ago!)

 So, in conclusion, I give DREAMLAND 5 out of 5 stars. Go get this book and read it! Especially if domestic violence is something that has touched your life. Buy from your local indie bookseller here, or check it out at your local library. Happy Reading!

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