Robert L. Anderson brings us into the world of dreams and nightmares in his debut novel Dreamland.
There are 3 rules to dream walking: 1. Never interfere 2. Never be seen 3. Never walk the same person’s dream twice. Dea Donahue learned these rules from her mother Miriam when she was a little girl and first discovered her ability to entry the dreams of others. For Dea and Miriam dream walking isn’t just something they CAN do, it’s something they MUST. If they go too long without entering a dream, they get physically ill. And if they don’t follow the rules of dream walking…… bad things can happen. But rules were made to be broken. And from the moment the rules of dream walking are explained you know that Dea is bound break every one of them. And as soon as Dea meets her new next door neighbor Connor, we know who she’ll break the rules for.
Connor is quite literally the boy next door. Connor and his father and step-mother move in next to the reproduction farm house Dea and her mother rent in the small town of Fielding, Indiana. The first time Dea sees Connor he’s skinny dipping in a swimming hole. It doesn’t get more boy-next-door than that, folks. Connor is tall, with the athletic build of a swimmer and just a hint of a dimple when he smiles. Dea has no idea why this cute new boy wants to talk to her. Connor is just the kind of boy who would fit right in with the popular set. Dea figures Connor will be friendly just long enough to figure out Dea is a social pariah and start ignoring her at school. It’s happened to Dea before. It happens pretty much everywhere Dea and Miriam move, and they move a lot.
But Connor doesn’t shun Dea at school. He doesn’t mind eating lunch with Dea and her only other friend Gollum, who somehow is less popular than Dea. With Connor, Dea feels normal for the first time ever. Dea wants to know more about the cute boy next door and the temptation to walk his dreams is too strong to resist. But once is not enough. The more she learns about Connor’s dream world, the more she wants to know, so she goes in again, and again. (Broken dream walking rules #1). And the more she gets know Connor, the closer she wants to get to him, so Dea starts to interact with his dreamscape (Broken dream walking rule #2). And the more she interacts, the more careless she gets (Broken dream walking rule #3). Dea has never broken her mother’s dream walking rules until now and Dea has no idea what she’s started.
Just as Dea finally starts to feel at home in one of the many places her mother moves them, she starts to question Miriam and the life she’s created for them. Dea begins to wonders if the constant moving from one random town to another is because of her mother’s wanderlust or if she’s running from something. Or someone. When Miriam announces yet another move just when Dea begins to imagine a future with Connor, Dea refuses to go and this small act of rebellion has major consequences. And when Connor’s dream world starts to shift into something dark and sinister, Dea wonders if her dream boy is a nightmare. That’s when things in Dreamland really start to get interesting.
While the science of Dreamland might not pass the Neil deGrasse Tyson plausibility test, the world Robert L. Anderson creates lulls you into a trance and draws you in. Anderson takes enough time for the relationships between Dea and Connor to build rather than relying on superficial attraction to explain their actions. But don’t be fooled by the slow world building in the beginning of this book. Dreamland is an imaginative fast paced thriller and when it hits its stride it keeps going right to the end and then some. There was no way I was putting this book down until it was done, which led to one very late night followed by some very peculiar dreams.