organized by Devourer of Books (cool name!).
I'm a little sad because Dreamland is my last unread Sarah Dessen novel. It's interesting to read her work from eleven years ago and see how her writing has changed. Published in 2000, Dreamland is a much darker Dessen than what we see in her latest novel, What Happened to Goodbye.
Caitlin O'Koren has become invisible. Her perfect older sister left home and created a void in her family. While her parents cope with Cassie's absence, Caitlin is swept into a relationship with handsome and rebellious Rogerson Biscoe. (This name kills me.) Apparently, dreadlocks were a much bigger deal in 2000, because all reactions to Rogerson, both positive and negative, are attributed to "the hair". Rogerson deals marijuana and most of their relationship involved driving around, delivering pot. That is, until he starts hitting her and then the relationship revolves around Caitlin anticipating Rogerson's moods.
In the past, I have found it challenging to relate to characters that are victims of domestic violence. Dessen beautifully describes the conditions which cause Caitlin to continue in the relationship: not only are her parents ignoring her, she feels like there is nothing unique about her, Rogerson is the first person to make her feel special, and even negative attention is better than walking through life as a ghost. The descriptions of Rogerson's aggression were heartbreaking, perhaps even moreso on audiobook.
I also appreciate Dessen's deft handling of Caitlin's marijuana use. It didn't glorify it, nor was it vilified. I feel that sometimes young adult authors feel a responsibility to show how dangerous drug use can be by including a car crash or another dramatic event. Caitlin's situation seems much more realistic: she withdraws from those she loves and gradually becomes more listless and apathetic. The reader gets the message in a subtle way (apart from the rehab at the end but I am pretending that is solely for her relationship issues).
I loved that I listened to Dreamland. It is a long audiobook--8.5 hours--and took me all the way across South Carolina and halfway back. I apologize to anyone on the road with me at the time; I could have been driving 45 or 85 and wouldn't have known it because I was so engrossed in the story. Narrator Liz Morton's distinction between the characters was excellent. I truly felt like Caitlin's mother and Caitlin were voiced by different people.
When reviewing What Happened to Goodbye, I complained that it felt like Sarah Dessen may be stuck in a rut. I'd love for her to go back to her darker roots because Dreamland was excellent and important.