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Review: Dreamland by Robert L. Anderson

Review: Dreamland by Robert L. Anderson
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Book Name: Dreamland
Author: Robert L. Anderson
Publisher(s): Hodder
Formatt: Hardback, Paperback, E-Book
Genre(s): Fantasy, Young Adult
Release Date: 24th September 2015

I’ve made a real effort to widen my Young Adult reading over the last year or so. Mostly this is the result of multiple conversations I had with authors at the Young Adult Literary Convention. Whilst speaking with authors about what the Young Adult genre actually is the majority of them couldn’t really give me an answer and pointed out that perhaps YA isn’t really a thing at all, it’s just a decision a publisher makes in terms of who is more likely to buy the book (younger people or older people) as opposed to who the book is for and who will/can enjoy it.

As I read more Young Adult work, I can’t completely agree with that, but it’s probably not too far off. I have found that you can come close to guaranteeing  the protagonist will be young and, as a result, they will have to overcome an attribute of their ‘youth’ / ‘inexperience’ using the characteristics they do have instead. In Young Adult Fantasy novels this tends to be some kind of power or ability or magical entity. In non-fantasy novels this tends to be intellect, savviness, some kind of skill, etc.

Anyway, moving on to Dreamland. Dreamland is a novel about a girl, Dea, who lives with her mother. Dea is that girl at school who is not cool enough to hang out with the cool kids, not quite nerdy enough to hang out with the nerds and not quite in-between enough to hang out with those who fit in-between the middle of the two groups. Essentially, she is in-between the in-between, and the fact her mother is always moving and this is the umpteenth school she has found herself enrolled, as a result, means she is somewhat of a loner. Her one friend, Gollum – a nickname given as the result of making the mistake of wearing of a Lord of The Rings T-shirt to school, is admittedly a bit strange, but good company and not one to ask questions about her background.

MonstersThis is a good thing, because Dea isn’t normal. Dea was born with the ability to walk into peoples’ dreams. By holding something someone is associated with – it could be a swimming medal or a scarf, for example – Dea is able to slip into that person’s dreams. If that sounds like the kind of power you’d like to have, then the rules would probably make you reconsider its use: Never interfere. Never be seen. Never walk the same person’s dream more than once. Dea is warned by her mother that breaking these rules will result in the ‘Monsters’ finding her. Essentially, Dea must enter dreams purely to stop the weakness and headaches she gets should she not… It’s not a power so much as a necessary part of staying healthy.

Dea is close to her mother, but her unwillingness to discuss her past, have a meaningful conversation as to the origin of her powers, reveal where she gets her cash from and where she disappears to all the time makes it hard not to feel anger towards her. So Dea’s life is pretty much: go to school, walk home with Gollum, walk a dream, repeat. That is until the day she meets Connor, and everything changes. The first thing Dea notices about Connor is that he is good looking, the second thing is that he alludes confidence. One of the cool kids. So, when he asks her to give him a tour of the area and seems to want to spend time with her after that she is shocked. For someone like Dea who has never spent time with a guy, let alone ‘flirted’ with one it all seems as if there is some kind of joke being played at her expensive, as if something about this situation or this person can’t be quite right… and she isn’t wrong.

People begin asking Dea about Connor and it quickly becomes apparent that there are things in Connor’s past that should concern someone who is growing close to him. The kind of things people are suggesting lay in Connor’s past don’t match the person she is getting to know… but when Dea makes the mistake of walking into his dreams more than the once allowed, a chain of events start to unravel that means neither Dea or Connor can ignore their own or each others’ pasts.

Dreamland-FWhat I (surprisingly) liked about Dreamland is that the ‘Dreamland’ was an incredibly small part of the book. The story of Dreamland is far more a story about Dea and her difficulties and discontent with the kind of life she has. Dea’s mum has secrets and although she knows not to ask why they keep moving all the time, she is angry at the effect it is having on her life. Dea doesn’t have friends and although she has convinced herself she is OK with that, she is really not. She is lonely. The future for Dea looks bleak and she has no idea where her life is going. Very, very quickly the author, Robert L. Anderson, has you feeling for Dea and really wanting her to find her way in life. When you meet Connor though, as much as you have come to like Dea you know that this kind of guy couldn’t possibly like this kind of girl and there is something very wrong about that. It makes you really think about your own attitudes and values and also those that exist in schools.

In addition to the character growth and romance, the non-fantasy based mysteries that lie in each of the characters’ pasts are so intriguing that the ‘dream walking’ aspect of the story really does take a backseat. The novel walks down more of a thriller path and your desire to know whether the things Connor is meant to have done in his past are true and what it is about Dea’s mother that has her moving from pillar to post outweighs that of wanting to explore the Dreamworld.

On that note, going into this novel and after reading the blurb I was expecting something almost fairytale-like and that’s not really what I found. What I did find was a novel about a loner girl who meets a seemingly perfect guy (with baggage) and has a mother who is making her life difficult. Had it been described to me like this I probably wouldn’t have picked it up, which would have been a shame. I think the great thing about being a reader is that it allows us to walk in someone else’s shoes for a time. This can be a Viking, a Mage, an Elf, etc, but it can also be an American girl in her teens and when an author as skilled as Robert L. Anderson is shaping the tale you can find yourself really taking something away from the experience of walking in those shoes.

As positive as I’ve been about the non-fantasy elements in Dreamland, I’m certain that the second book will focus far more fantasy elements. We leave the novel on a cliffhanger to some extent and I know that more titles are in the works. I think now that I’m familiar with Dea and her circumstances I’m quite ready for the more fantasy-like adventures that are certain to await. I do think for Anderson to write another book as fantasy-lite as Dreamland would be a difficult task, so I’m not complaining. Bring on further exploration of the Dreamland!

You can read an extract here.

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Rating: 9.7/10 (6 votes cast)
Review: Dreamland by Robert L. Anderson, 9.7 out of 10 based on 6 ratings
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