Another Sarah Dessen book. When I talk about my love/hate relationship with her, I’m talking about this book. Dreamland. This book should come with a warning, just fyi. There’s physical and emotional abuse in it, something I was not expecting when I picked up the book. While Dessen usually balances dark themes with some more optimistic tones, this was not one of those cases.
Caitlin has always lived in the shadow of her older sister, Cass. But when Cass runs away, Caitlin is left struggling to discover who she is. She slowly spirals downward, until she meets Rogerson, a guy who puts her at ease, is mysterious and different, and someone Cass never would’ve gone for. But again, her relationship with Rogerson turns to trouble, Caitlin becomes lost.
One of the most important parts of a book to me is connecting to the characters. And I couldn’t connect with Caitlin. Her emotions seemed to be very one note: she was hopeless, sad, trapped, lost, etc. I couldn’t understand her thinking, and I became very frustrated with her. I felt bad for her, sure, but you don’t really want to feel bad for a protagonist. You want to feel bad with the character. Caitlin was weak, and I don’t have patience for that. Also, I was disappointed with her character growth. She grew slightly stronger, yes, but the majority of the book was her growing weaker and weaker. And when she finally turned things around, it was very minimal change. Just overall, I didn’t feel like Caitlin really grew from her experiences. All these things happened to her, but she was the same as she was in the beginning.
“She was just a shell of her former self, functioning and talking but hardly alive.”
My first impression of Rogerson was creepy, and that impression didn’t change as I continued reading. I mean, he met Caitlin outside a party that he wasn’t invited to, and literally two minutes later she’s leaving with him? I think he was meant to be bad boy charming, but he was really just creepy. Also, all the good bad boys are really just misunderstood people with home life problems but a heart of gold. Rogerson was only a bad boy: he smoked, dealt drugs, and of course, hit his girlfriends. Also, he made a brief cameo in Lock and Key as Marshall’s friend. That alone is a strike against him.
I like how Dessen explored abusive relationships. It was something I haven’t been exposed to, so while surprising, it was important. I understand that the victim becomes very attached to the abuser. But at a certain point, I wanted to yell at Caitlin. She was aware of what was happening, yet still made excuses for Rogerson. I know it’s hard for people to leave their abuser, but it wasn’t because she was scared. She just kept thinking that it wasn’t the real Rogerson, although after the first hit, that was all he was showing her. The only reason the relationship ended is because Rogerson hit her in front of her family and they sent her to get help. It wasn’t even her decision in the end.
“I was worn out, broken: He had taken almost everything. But he’d been all I’d had, all this time. And when the police led him away, I pulled out of the hands of all these loved ones, sobbing, screaming, everything hurting, to try and make him stay.”
On the topic of family and friends, I have to say I was very disappointed in these relationships. Her family is there, and present, and supposedly cares about Caitlin, yet nobody noticed all her warning signs? She started smoking and doing drugs, but her family couldn’t smell it or recognize it? She started to wear long sleeves in the summer, and it didn’t strike her family as unusual. And Caitlin started to become more withdrawn and isolated, and her best friend Rina didn’t notice or care. I find it hard to believe that everyone in her life could be so oblivious to the fact that Caitlin was struggling, but they were, and that made me mad. Family relationships are so important, and they were lacking in this book.
One good note about this book is that I always love Sarah Dessen’s writing style. Even when the plot and characters are lacking, you still can’t put the book down. She uses beautiful imagery in her book and metaphors. But again, similar to Caitlin’s emotions, the whole book was also one note. It was depressing and hopeless, and the ending, which I think was supposed to inspire some hope, fell flat on that note. It’s good to explore dark topics, because these topics happen in real life, but it’s best to balance out the dark tones with some lighter tones, like family, friendship, humor, and Dessen didn’t do that this time.
I think this book, while it had promise to be something very eye opening, fell flat of its potential.
Have you read this book? What do you think? How does it compare to other Sarah Dessen books?