033 – Dreamwalk by Sarah MacManus

Dreamwalk cover Dreamwalk is a romantic mixed beat of time travel and mythology for both teens and adults. After the death of her mother, Chloe Hawthorn is haunted by terrifying nighttime hallucinations. Determined to take control of her dreams, she uses them to find Shane Anderson, a charming and troubled musician whose online videos have been holding her in thrall. She finds him in the Dreamtime, sweating out heroin detox in a run-down rehab center.

Chloe sets out to find Shane in the waking world and discovers her dreams have been taking her into the past. Horrified, Chloe realizes Shane doesn’t survive his addictions. In order to save him, Chloe must master her Australian mother’s legacy – the secret of walking the Dreaming through time. But what price will Chloe pay for this Dreamwalk and will she save Shane only to lose him forever?
When the author contacted us about reviewing Dreamwalk, I was leery because we’re bitter old hags who don’t like anything pretty picky readers, and let’s be honest, our reviews are pretty harsh. Some authors probably don’t want to read that. We decided it’d be best to warn her about us first, and happily, her reply assured us that that was the kind of feedback an author could use. So we went ahead and read Dreamwalk, and now I feel rather stupid because, upon finishing it, I couldn’t come up with a single bad thing – constructively or otherwise – to say about it.

I really, really enjoyed Dreamwalk. It ticks all my boxes – it’s surreal, it’s genre-bending, it’s unique, it’s bittersweet, the characters are realistic and well-developed, and it’s got a great ending. More importantly, it’s complex. This isn’t about a girl out to save the world or bring down a government or right society’s wrongs. It’s more intimately focused than that. And while I almost never like books whose plots are driven solely by a romantic conflict, Dreamwalk isn’t that shallow. It’s not just about love, it’s about a girl dealing with her mother’s death, with growing up and finding herself and her place. It’s about a boy learning to cope with reality, or really the different ways in which people in general cope with reality. The romance is just the means by which the characters learn these lessons.

Actually, I think my biggest complaint about Dreamwalk might be the summary. It’s way too spoilery! By the time I started reading it, all I remembered about it was that the heroine could do something in dreams, and her love interest was a junkie. And I’m very glad that’s all I remembered; the experience was much better for it, so much more unpredictable. I was allowed to speculate and theorize about things the summary gives away – what and where Shane was (dead? a ghost? a figment of Chloe’s imagination?), how Chloe could reach him (was she insane? was it all just a dream?), what might keep them apart (did not see the time-travel coming, and I loved that twist) – and be pleasantly surprised when I was wrong nearly every time.

The surreal quality contributed greatly to the unpredictable aspect of the story – you believe that in this world, anything could happen – or perhaps nothing would happen at all. I really did entertain the idea that Chloe and/or Shane was simply delusional, and the way Dreamwalk is written made that a valid possibility. It literally reads like a dream, mostly in the abrupt scene transitions, and matter-of-fact inclusion and acceptance of the bizarre. It reminded me of movies like Inception and Black Swan, and actually brought back a lot of memories of House of Leaves in the beginning, what with the seemingly innocuous media that inspires life-changing obsession. It’s difficult to really explain, but Dreamwalk just has this wonderfully strange, fantastic vibe even in the relatively mundane scenes that makes you question just how real the heroine’s experiences are.

It’s been really difficult to come up with things to complain about, because I’m not gonna lie here, there’s not a lot I noticed while reading it. I mean, there probably were things and I figure the heavier style of prose isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but damned if I didn’t enjoy every minute of it. There’s a lot of philosophical discussion on reality and the nature of existence and time and love, and some people may find that cheesy, but I was always interested, and it always seemed relevant in some way. Sure, there were a few things that seemed random, or just popped up that perhaps the heroine should have known about/not done (like the site dedication or the nap in the subway or the clubbing), but that just added to the surreal quality for me – like maybe it was just a dream.

Sure, the characters were occasionally prone to doing stupid or selfish things – I was disappointed in Shane more than once, and incredibly annoyed by the way Chloe was more devastated by the state of this guy she barely knew than with her ICU-bound friend’s condition. But that’s the thing – their reactions felt human. They weren’t perfect, but they weren’t bad people either. And despite the morally questionable actions and attitudes, they were still sympathetic leads. Actually, the whole book is populated by complex, relatable, and very human characters with varying amounts of baggage, and that’s pretty damn rare in YA these days. Even the “villain” is less mustache-twirlingly evil than dangerously delusional.

I really liked Chloe as a heroine, and Shane as a secondary protagonist/love interest. Again, they were both flawed, but sympathetic characters, who – gasp – grew as the book progressed! I loved that Chloe began so creepily obsessed with Shane, but by the end, she was trying to save him as much for his family as herself. And call me a sucker for reality-bending doomed romances, but I bought their love story. Their visits in the Dreamtime were perfectly orchestrated, development-wise – you buy these two complete strangers getting to know each other on such an intimate level so quickly, because neither believes the other actually exists. It’s rather brilliant, actually – a relationship constructed without the emotional and psychological boundaries of reality.

Also, I’m pretty sure Hyde has already written their love theme.

Only a few things really stuck out to me as…well, sticking out at all. For starters, the sex scene was way more graphic than you usually find in YA books (probably one of the reasons it’s classified as both YA and adult). It wasn’t in a voyeuristic, get-you-off, romance novel kind of way – more like an honest and very detailed portrayal of a teenager’s first time. I’m no prude (obviously), so it wasn’t really an issue for me, but I imagine it might be a little shocking for the younger set. And the younger set’s parents.

The second issue was the troublingly cavalier way heroin was used as a plot device. Not with Shane’s addiction; I though his life and the consequences of his actions were realistic and well-handled. But Chloe’s were…less so. In the latter half of the book, while on the search for Shane, Chloe experiments with heroin. I’m not entirely clear on how…willingly it was to start (if it’s unwillingly, she’s not exactly adequately angry afterwards), but she eventually discovers that a good dose boosts her natural Dreamwalking powers, and proceeds to use it several more times in order to resolve the plot. In fact, heroin is the only means by which she is able to bring about a resolution to the plot at all, and she does this with almost no negative repercussions.

Sure, there is a casual reprimand from her mother, warning her that it’s an unnatural way of entering the Dreamtime, and it ends up costing her what should be a huge price, but you never really feel the enormity of that loss. Physically, her suffering is minor – she’s never addicted, nor does she do anything more painful than throw up. Psychologically, she recognizes that it puts her in a “near-death” state, but never fears for her life, and actually has a bigger problem taking sleeping pills than shooting up. She seems to do nothing but benefit from experimenting with this incredibly scary, harmful drug, and it makes for a really awkward plot device.

There were a few characters who pop up more than once, that I expected some kind of subplot from, yet ultimately were only really a means of getting the heroine from point A to point B; the Miley Cyrus/Lindsay Lohan-esque wild child star who (continually) befriends Chloe comes to mind, as does the boy from her home town whose sole purpose seems to be to reveal the time-travel angle. It wasn’t that much of an issue for me though, I’m not really one of those people who minds extra characters even under the worst of circumstances. Similarly, I was a little disappointed with the lack of development with her father – it seemed like there’d be some sort of character arc/relationship development there, but we don’t get much more than a small “he’s hurting too” epiphany from Chloe before he’s totally taken out of the equation, and we never get back to him.

Finally, I’ve gotta admit, though I’m a fan of bittersweet endings and the whole lovers-moving-on thing, to be honest, this one felt..false. Chloe and Shane go through Hell and back (by their own admission) to be together, Chloe sacrifices almost everything to save him, and then she just…does the mature thing. I mean, I can see why, I can see how it came about, how she experienced a bunch of personal epiphanies in her last trip through the Dreamtime, and I really do, logically, think she did the right thing, but that’s just it – it was logical. It felt very out of character for this girl who was so illogically obsessed with this guy for so long, who did incredibly stupid and reckless things to see him again. I mean, I suppose that’s the point – she finally grew up – but I dunno, maybe there just wasn’t enough time for that to sink in. Or perhaps we never really felt that maturity with her, where we definitely felt her obsession for the previous several hundred pages.

But then we got the sweet part of our bittersweet ending, so I suppose it evened out. I loved the symmetry there, between the last page and her first experience with Shane. It’s a great moment to finally “get”, clear without bashing you over the head, and it left me with a smile.

All in all, I’ll say it again, I really enjoyed this book. It’s beautiful and meaningful and surreal and different. I loved the use of Austrailian mythology (something you almost never see), and the personal growth the heroine and her love experience. This is YA and young love done right, and I can’t wait to see what Sarah MacManus does next.

four stars


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