Dream a Little Dream | Silver #1 | ISBN 9781627790277 | Henry Holt and Co., 2013 | 2.5 out of 5 Points
“Mysterious doors with lizard-head knobs. Talking stone statues. A crazy girl with a hatchet. Yes, Liv’s dreams have been pretty weird lately. Especially the one where she’s in a graveyard at night, watching four boys conduct dark magic rituals.
The strangest part is that Liv recognizes the boys in her dream. They’re classmates from her new school in London, the school where she’s starting over because her mom has moved them to a new country (again). But what’s really scaring Liv is that the dream boys seem to know things about her in real life, things they couldn’t possibly know–unless they actually are in her dreams? Luckily, Liv never could resist a good mystery, and all four of those boys are pretty cute….”
To me Kerstin Gier was one of those authors who absolutely couldn’t fail. You know what I’m talking about. We all have our favourites, those writers whose writing resonates with us in a special way. Kerstin Gier was that author for me. I devoured her Ruby Red books, I’ve read them many times and I still do whenever I need to cheer myself up.
When I heard about Dream a Little Dream I was really excited. No, excited is an understatement. I was ecstatic. A new YA book by Kerstin Gier, the queen of charming, laugh out lout funny fantasy? I needed it. I had an official need. And look at that cover for the US edition too! What a pretty! This book just had to be good, right? Right?! Well. It kind of wasn’t. I may come off a little bitter later on but put yourself in my shoes here. My favourite, my queen who could not fail… failed.
BLOND IS BEAUTIFUL?
Dream a Little Dream started out well enough, but look, I’m going to say it: Look at that blurb. Four gorgeous elusive boys messing up a girl’s life and conducting weird rituals. I’m thinking Raven Boys. You’re thinking Raven Boys. We’re all thinking Raven Boys. The similarities are kind of there and kind of not and I can’t help but cringe just so slightly. This is not a Raven Boys knock-off really, don’t worry, but the similarities in the set-up are there. If anything it’s a Gossip Girl knock-off though which might be even more cringeworthy.
My first problem with the books is very personal but it’s been bugging me so here goes nothing: This book is set in London but it could literally be any other city. It wouldn’t even have to be a city. It could be set in a village, really. There is no London in this book, none at all, so if that’s what you’re hoping to find you’ll be dissapointed. London is just a word that’s uttered sometimes but we see nothing of my glorious city. London is dark and full of history and majestic and wonderful and Dream a Little Dream shows you exactly none of that. We see some vaguely described mansions from the inside, we see Liv’s posh new school and that’s about it. As I’ve said before this could be any village in England or anywhere else for the matter. It doesn’t feel like London or even England at all. Kerstin Gier is German but she knows London well. Ruby Red was deliciously British. But Dream a Little Dream is not and somehow to me that’s very dissapointing.
The thing is, Kerstin Gier tries to do a lot of stuff here but she doesn’t do it well. She fails. Over and over. I feel like she wanted to give us these gorgeous elusive British boys, this untouchable group of friends for Liv to join, deep connections and friendship with a touch of the mysterious. But what she gave us instead are four shallow caricatures of your typical posh English school boys, just as two dimensional and bland as the setting. If you’ve gone to school in England for just one week, you’ll recognise these archetypes immediately. There’s Arthur, the drop-dead gorgeous leader of the pack. Jasper, who’s so stupid he reminded me of Karen Smith from Mean Girls (only Karen was endearing where Jasper was kind of just there). Grayson, the friendly big brother type and then of course Henry, who is nice and charming and bland. And that’s all there is to them.
Heroine Liv herself is a lot more interesting. She’s fifteen, has lived in a few different countries and likes to solve riddles. Her little sister Mia is an even cooler and snarkier version of Liv. I liked the girls quite a lot but I was a bit disappointed in their attitude towards other girls. Every other teenage girl in this book is described as a boy crazy airhead and Liv and Mia are the only sane ones for the sole reason that they haven’t yet fallen in love and therefore didn’t have their minds destroyed by those pesky hormones. What? I get why Mia would think like this. She’s only thirteen. But Liv? She’s not in Year Seven anymore, she should know that “other girls” aren’t an army of clones, all alike and hopeless idiots because of boys. Her attitude towards other girls is extremely childish but I did like her. She’s cute, she’s feisty, she’s headstrong. Liv is no Gwen from Ruby Red by far but she’s okay, I liked her.
But overall the characters in Dream a Little Dream are cardboard cutouts. It doesn’t help they all look the same either. The four boys are all beautiful, they’re all blond. Liv is blond. Mia is blond. Arthur’s girlfriend Annabel, also a major character, is blond. I’ve read my fair share of all white YA books but this is something else all together. They’re not just all rich, white and pretty, they’re also all blondes. It’s actually just ridiculous. I wouldn’t have minded that much if they’d been interesting people but they’re just not. I liked them alright but they don’t stand out and that’s Dream a Little Dream’s big problem. It just doesn’t stand out at all. Not like Ruby Red did with its carefully crafted time travelling, well researched historical detail and witty dialogue. It reads like a half-hearted try at writing another hit YA series, it feels rushed and kind of unfinished. I could have dealt though because the setting is gorgeous. It’s a dark dream world full of weird and macabre encounters, something surreal from a fairytale, something quite stunning. Liv’s trips to the dream world read like actual dreams, somewhat hazy, bizarre, colourful.
WHO IS SECRECY?
But that’s just not enough if the rest of the book is trite. More than trite actually. It reads like Kerstin Gier wanted Dream a Little Dream to be all grown up and mature but it isn’t. This is the book equivalent of a thirteen year old girl thinking she was all grown up and mature. It’s somewhat hateful at times and that’s a real shame. There’s the Tittle Tattle Blog all the kids at Liv’s new school read. An anonymous student called Secrecy gossips about the school’s students just like Gossip Girl does. But Secrecy is so mean that it’s no fun to read the Tittle Tattle Blog. In fact it made me somewhat uncomfortable. Secrecy’s favourite victim is an overweight girl who she pressured into losing weight – but now that she’s thin, Secrecy still keeps bullying her. Bullying, that’s all this blog is about. If you don’t fit beauty standards in any way, Secrecy is going to spread crap about you. And all the other kids are going to repeat it to your face over and over again. What does Liv think about this? Oh, she thinks Secrecy is mean but isn’t she just so hilarious? I hated how Liv condoned the Tittle Tattle Blog.
I also wouldn’t recommend this book to people struggling with mental illness. Seriously. It could be a massive trigger. Being mentally ill is equated to being dangerous, crazy and a total freak in Dream a Little Dream. There’s no sympathy, there’s no realistic portrayal of mental illnesses, there’s just age old stigma and ridicule and sneering from our beautiful blond “heroes”. There’s a very unhealthy attitude towards female sexuality too. I’m all for sex positive Young Adult literature but I’m not for repeating old sexist tropes over and over. I don’t mean to spoil the book for you so let’s just say that the old “Boys can have sex with whoever they want whenever they want but girls should stay virgins for as long as possible” is tied to a major plot point and Liv just accepts it which is just frustrating.
In the end this aspect of Dream a Little Dream seriously left me on the fence about the book. The novel is somewhat charming. Kerstin Gier’s writing style is lovely. Humour comes easy to her and there are some laugh out loud moments. The dream world she creates is beautiful, filled with bizarre and somewhat silly encounters just like real dreams. I wanted to love this book so much, I wanted it to be a five star read like Ruby Red was. But it isn’t. I can’t look past the bland characters and I really can’t look past the weird attitudes displayed towards sex and mental illness and not fitting social norms. Kerstin Gier can absolutely do better and has done better than this in the past. So in the end Dream a Little Dream was a huge disappointment for me but at the same time weirdly enjoyable thanks to Gier’s lovely lovely writing and imaginative dream world. I’m still not sure how I feel about this book. I might never be sure so let’s leave it at that. I’m giving it 2.5 points out of five. I would end this on a song pun because I’m funny like that but I won’t since this book’s title already is a song pun and it would just be redundant.
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