Wednesday, August 18, 2010
All her life, Caitlin was overshadowed by her older sister Cass. Cass has the perfect life: student council president, star soccer player, and on her way to Yale for college. But when Caitlin wakes up on her 16th birthday, she finds out that her sister left home without telling anyone. As the family copes with the space left by Cass, Caitlin still feels her shadow. Longing to be different and to do something her own, she falls in love with Rogerson, a mysterious older boy. On their first date, she learns two secrets about him: that Rogerson is a drug dealer, and that his father hits him. Those revelations fold her into his world. And despite his problems, Caitlin is happy with who she is: “Now, with him, I felt finally like I was making my own choices, living wide awake after being in a dreamworld so long.” Life takes on the routine of hanging out with his friends, joining him on his “errands”, smoking and doing drugs. Soon, Rogerson becomes possessive and jealous, and Caitlin starts losing control of her life. Then Rogerson becomes abusive. Caitlin feels helpless: “But now I felt like I was drifting, sucked down by undertow, and too far out to swim back to the shore.” Constantly stoned, she hides her bruises and looks forward to the good days – days when Rogerson won’t hit her. She sinks, stuck in a different kind of dreamland, which she finds “preferable” to facing the reality of her problems. As she spirals toward her breaking point, she feels herself being shaken awake, shaken back into reality. But breaking the surface will mean leaving Rogerson and coming to terms with herself.
“Dreamland.” The title makes this sound a like light read, but it’s a heavy story. When Caitlin was drowning under the weight of her problems, I could understand her helplessness, her shame, her desire to keep her problems secret. But I was a bit upset at Caitlin because she didn’t have to be in that situation in the first place. There were lots of alarm bells ringing as her relationship took off, but she didn’t pay attention. Her desire to differentiate herself from her sister was so strong that it overpowered all other reasoning. Caitlin wasn’t particularly troubled, but she got sucked in nonetheless.
Sarah Dessen vividly describes what it feels like to lose control over your life, to feel attached to the source of your problems, to feel helpless and wanting help, but never being able to say your problems out loud. She sends a strong message to readers about drugs and abusive relationships. It’s dark and gritty, and if you’re smart enough to know what’s good for you, you’ll avoid Caitlin’s dreamland at all costs.