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Dreamland by Sarah Dessen This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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Not Another Teen Novel

When browsing through the teen section at Barnes and Noble, it is easy to map out a route, and totally skip the teen section. To be honest, the majority of the books located there are about teen romance gone astray or (now-a-days) vampires. Neither of these sounds like the kind of book an intellectual would enjoy, so why even bother taking a stroll over to the section in the far left corner? Well, once in awhile one may come across a book with a deep plot, dynamic characters, and an emotion filled theme. This is the case with Dreamland by Sarah Dessen is found amongst the endless number of shallow teen novels. The novel is an easy read, but the theme, plot, and characters in the book show that it is far beyond “simple teen literature.”

The plot in this book is developed at a good pace, and toys with the reader’s emotions. At the beginning of the story, there is a lot of plot development. It begins with introducing Caitlyn, a sixteen year old girl whose sister has just ran away with her boyfriend to New York City. The plot mainly deals with Caitlyn finding ways to overcome her sister leaving her. She chose an unhealthy way to deal with this. That is, rebelling against everything her sister stood for. Caitlyn meets a boy, but he is far from “Mr. Right” in every way possible. She gets involved with the wrong people, and her life starts to spiral out of control. This is highlighted on page 167: “Wake up Caitlyn, Mr.Lesing has said. But what he didn’t understand was that this dreamland was preferable, walking through this life half-sleeping, everything at arms length or farther away.” Caitlyn goes from an average teenage girl to a drug addict victim of domestic violence within a few chapters. The reason the plot in this book is so deep is because it opens the reader’s eyes to how easily people can hide their pain, physically and mentally. It is done by taking a loved character and hurting her, and it sometimes seems she will never stop hiding her bruises. The dark and haunting plot does not end gracefully; Caitlyn has to really work to fix her life. There is no happy ending, rather, a semi-happy ending. Dreamland is a deep book with a plot that is real and raw; a read for everyone who has already learned life is not all butterflies and kisses.

The main characters in this book change as the plot thickens, and the smaller characters represent aspects of Caitlyn’s life. Rogerson and Caitlyn are the two people in the book that have the main stage. This is because Caitlyn’s life has become all encompassed with everything Rogerson. The other characters, like her mother, represent the stress that is put on her to be just like her perfect sister. Rogerson is a typical bad boy. With his dread locks, sinister smile, and drug dealing lifestyle, he represents everything a mother doesn’t want her daughter to love. Any bad boy loving person who reads Dreamland will absolutely fall in love with him, at first. It disillusions the reader when Rogerson turns into the enemy, hitting Caitlyn and scarring her for life. He introduces Caitlyn to a life of drugs and rebellion. This is illustrated when Rogerson picks up Caitlyn from a night out with her friends, so they can go sell and smoke marijuana: “ I kept my eyes on the faces staring back hard as Rogerson hit the gas… leaving them to be just a bright orange speck in the side view mirror, falling father and father behind me.” (94) Caitlyn changes throughout Dreamland. Before she meets Rogerson she admits to going to typical high school parties and drinking, but it is just a social thing to do with her friends. While dating Rogerson, the chemical romance turns into an escape from her life of hell. When Caitlyn gets heavy into the hard core drugs, the reader becomes worried about her, and angry with Rogerson. She becomes so spaced out from her life, when she crashes back to reality; she turns into a different Caitlyn. There are essentially three Caitlyns, before Rogerson, during, and after. Each one has qualities that are easily relatable. The characters in this book change as the plot develops, and most people will find themselves relating to Caitlyn, even though she is an abused and drug addict teen.


The theme in this book is obvious, but it doesn’t have a lecture feel. Upon first finding this out, it is easy to assume the rest of the book will have a public service announcement feel. Luckily, that is a very incorrect assumption. The theme is people who are abused tend to hide their scars, both physically and mentally. The physical part was Caitlyn enduring beatings from Rogerson, and refusing to tell anyone. She hid under long sweaters and jeans and told lie after lie to her parents. There is also emotional pain that Caitlyn hides. She has always felt less than her sister, and hid that all the time by allowing her parents to make her feel like a second rate daughter. It is shown on page 11 that Caitlyn is preoccupied with all of the things that make her sister better than her: “Even with all our similarities, it was the things we didn’t have in common that I was always most aware of.” After the pressure to be just like her sister is pushed to the back of Caitlyn’s mind, she feels the betrayal and hurt from Rogerson. Her escape is to hide from these emotions by getting high, where she can be numb and not feel the emotional pain Rogerson has brought upon her. Everyone has scars to hide from the world, Dreamland addresses how one can only deal with so much pain before that person has to find a way to let go.

Dessen’s novel is a worthwhile read for anyone who enjoys a simple yet mature and dark read. The plot is fully developed at a fast pace, and the reader is taken on an emotional rollercoaster. While Caitlyn’s life is changing faster than she can keep up, she also is becoming someone else with each passing day. Furthermore, the person she has grown to love, the person she knows better than anyone, changes quickly for the worse. When their relationship becomes physically violent, it is easy to assume the book will turn into an informational text about violence. This is not the feeling the reader gets. The violence plays into Caitlyn’s life and adds to her habit of hiding her pain. Although an easy read, Dreamland is so packed with emotion it. It is a good book for mature readers who can handle the change from seemingly innocent high school romance, to a dark and violent relationship.





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