Sarah Dessen. Dreamland. New York: Speak, 2004.

external image Dreamland.jpg

"'Wake up, Caitlin'... But what he didn't understand was that this dreamland was preferable, walking through this life half-sleeping, everything at arm's length or farther away." When life becomes more complicated than ever, where can anyone turn? Caitlin O'Koren's life was represented by her sister, Cass. Walking through life in her shadow was something Caitlin was just used to... until the day Cass runs away. Now, Caitlin is forced to find her own path away from her sister, a task that proves exponentially challenging. The more she tries, the more she feels herself still following in Cass's footsteps. Rogerson Biscoe is the answer to her lack of identity; he brings her to a new, magnetic world of excitement where she can forget about her problems. But what happens when his risk-taking lifestyle causes her newly sparked life to be in danger?

This novel, by acclaimed author Sarah Dessen, connects young adults with a unique trial not uncommon to many teens today. With a mix of love, drugs, abuse, and the question of what defines a person, Caitlin helps teens explore what it means to find yourself and become your own individual. This novel discusses what exactly makes a person; who gets to decide what kind of person to be? Caitlin struggles with letting everyone else in her world change and morph the person she is until she finally gains the strength to stand on her own. In the end, although not flawlessly, she learns the importance of deciding for herself. Furthermore, this novel gives insight to the mind of an abused teen and the reasonings behind why she might stay with a man who hurts her, offering an understanding many people in society never see. Overall, Dreamland is a beautiful novel on identity that all teens should read at some point, whether in a personal context or an academic one.

Recommendations for Teachers
How can teachers use this novel as a tool within the classroom? I believe that Dessen's Dreamland has a lot to offer in terms of opening communication for teenagers with regards to identity, abuse, love and responsibility. It would be interesting for teachers to pair this novel with Romeo and Juliet. This could open discussion for themes of relationships: What are healthy relationships? How do we develop identity within a social community? How do we develop boundaries within a relationship in order to maintain respect? Both Dreamland and Romeo and Juliet are about teenagers who loose themselves in their relationships. As this is a theme relevant to teenagers, it would be interesting to develop conversations regarding self identity and how people percieve us. Just as Caitlin feels eclipsed by her sister Cass, so have other felt overshadowed by siblings, friends or relatives. It would be beneficial for students to write short journal entries about friends and family and share if desired.

Also, another theme in this novel that could start interesting dialogue is the abuse that Caitlin suffers at the hands of her boyfriend, Rogerson Biscoe. Students could work on projects regarding abuse and statistics or, if possible, a willing speaker could come in and discuss their personal experiences with abuse. By doing this, students can be exposed to means of battling against abuse, help-lines and agencies that help those who have experienced abuse, and ways to get involved in community programs that fight against abuse. This could equip students with means of helping themselves or others in similiar situations.

Finally, it would be interesting to have students write poems around the theme of Dreamland. Students can develop their interpretation of what a Dreamland would look like to them. How does their Dreamland differ from reality? What are the benefits of having a Dreamland? What are the negatives? This project could also lead and/or introduce the genre of fantasy novels or science-fiction. How do we use our imaginations to construct worlds different from the reality that we live in? Why, as human beings, are we drawn to different forms of escape?

About Name of Author: Sarah Dessen

external image sarah_dessen.jpeg
On her website,Sarah Dessen writes about her life growing up. She was born in Illinois, but grew up in North Carolina. Both of her parents were professors, her mom a classicist, and her dad a Shakespearean scholar. Growing up, she was encouraged to read by her parents. Dessen began writing stories when she received a typewriter at the age of nine. She studied Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina. For three years after graduating, she wrote during the day and worked evenings as a waitress at a Mexican restaurant. Finally, after three years as a waitress, she published her first book, That Summer. Dessen talks about the stability that writing provides for her,"I've found in my own life that if my writing isn't going well, not much else will. It is the one constant, the key to everything else." For Dessen, even the bad days of writing are better than not writing at all. Admitting that her own life is boring compared to her what happens in her books, it is easy to see how this imaginative young woman has the ability to embellish even the most simple plots.

Multimedia (Video or Audio)
Dreamland, Sarah Dessen. Trailer for book

Additional Resources:
Written interview with Dessen, inspiration for YA literature
Buy the book, Dreamland
Dessen's website
Help for Abused and Battered Women
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Full script of Romeo and Juliet
How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved
Quotes from Dessen
Teen Drug Abuse
Teens and Abusive Relationships
Teen Identity Magazine Magazine that provides a source of empowerment for teenage girls
How parents can help spot teen abuse
Resources for Teachers on Teen Abuse Videos, handouts, discussion guides, etc.
Girlshealth.gov on relationships Building healthy relationships for teen girls

Carol B, Trisha H, Melanie G. (and links to your other reviews).