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Profile Image for Cara.
279 reviews720 followers
July 14, 2014
Is there another word for heartbreaking? One that really can sum up feeling totally drained, broken, but at the same time hopeful? If the word does exist, that's this book in a nutshell.

While reading this I literally cringed and would slap the book shut, but a couple seconds later I would open it again to see what happens to a girl named Caitlin. She never feels like she measures up to her sister Cass, and in turn that leads her to trouble. And that trouble is named Rogerson (this is random but I HATED the way he dressed). He's different and wild, and she feels like she can gain that from him. Things seem to be ok at first, but you see hints of things that just don't seem right.... (I don't want to give away what happens because it isn't mentioned in the cover blurb) I literally wanted to shake Caitlin sometimes. She herself knows that she is on a destructive path, but feels like she can't do anything to get out of it. Though that isn't true, you always have a choice.

This book is so raw . I understood why Caitlin thought they way she did, even if it was wrong. It really opened my eyes to the situation she was in. Be warned that there is a lot of drug use. Rogerson is a dealer, so it was inevitable. Dessen does a good job of showing the negative effects of drugs without being preachy, or on the other hand being mistaken as a "stoner" book. Sometimes to heal you have to go through pain, and drugs cheat you of that opportunity. Sarah Dessen is the queen of showing how all the little choices we make add up to what path we are lead to. She does this in all her books, but it's emphasized in this one especially. As always her symbolism is perfect, and as all you fans know she really does know her stuff.

If you are looking for something happy this isn't it, but it's worth the read. Dessen's style shines and does an excellent job of telling Caitlin's story, which I know will hit home for some teenage girls. It's the best book on the subject I have read. If you liked this one read Breathing Underwater, which shows this situation from the other side. Like I said heartbreaking, but in the way we need it to be.
Profile Image for Ryan.
1,010 reviews
August 8, 2011
There is something to be said for authors that refuse to write the "Hollywood ending." They believe in their stories enough to write characters that need more than a big screen smooch to resolve their conflicts. Instead, these authors take the chance of writing an extended resolution, arguing, I imagine, that it takes time to resolve the problems people have. I would argue that novels that have a strong sense of resolution, something more than the sum of its tied-up-loose-ends, make a more enduring impact on us than their counterparts.

The resolution of Dreamland takes up 32 pages of a 250 page novel, which I suspect some readers will find a little long.

But it's good.

Caitlin O'Karen's older sister, Cass, runs away from to be with her boyfriend, even though she has been accepted to Yale and has parents that can afford to send her there. Caitlin, just turned sixteen, has always been the younger sister. Now, she has to find herself in the absence of Cass. However, no matter how hard she tries, she finds that the people around her act as though she is the new Cass.

It is only when Caitlin is with Rogerson Biscoe that she feels free of her sister's shadow and her parents' expectations. Rogerson drives a sleek BMW, his report card is impressive, and his counselors think he's "driven but misguided." He has dreadlocks that alarm parents everywhere and a look in his eyes that cannot be understood. He is very dreamy, and he is the love interest that Caitlin thinks will set her free.

Unfortunately, he does not transport Caitlin to a "dreamland" that Sinatre might sing about. Dreamland is not a romance novel. It's not even a "not a romance novel" in the way that Twilight is not a romance novel.

Rogerson sells pot "and other illegals," his father beats him, and he has a way of getting Caitlin to do things that she knows are wrong. Still, she thinks, it's better than cheer leading, right? That is, spoiler alert, until Rogerson hits Caitlin for the first time. At this point, Dreamland takes a turn for the dark. We come to realize that Caitlin, the battered girlfriend, is receding from reality and entering a sort of dreamland. Her grades are dropping, her squad tries to stage an intervention, and one teacher asks her to "wake up."

Sadly, Caitlin doesn't know how to proceed.

The climax Dreamland details how Caitlin escapes Rogerson's control, but it is not until the resolution that we see the true Caitlin emerge. I like how Dessen guides Caitlin through her convalescence. Her recovery would not make for a very good "Hollywood ending." If this were a film, we might expect the proper ending to be brief, a few scenes in which Caitlin, rising up with all of her sense of self, overthrows her violent male oppressor.

Instead, Dessen suggests that the psychology of the battered woman requires a more complicated narrative. I'll admit that I was impressed to see all of this in a novel marketed to young adults.
Profile Image for emma.
1,867 reviews54.4k followers
May 18, 2021
something i just never, ever needed is sarah dessen writing an abusive relationship.

summertime romances? sure. vacations and road trips? you bet. the difficulty in childhood friendships becoming adolescent friendships becoming adult friendships? any goddamn day of the week.

but THIS? this? no way.

even though sarah dessen's Troubled Girl Meets Troubled Boy And They Fall In Love And Also It's Summertime interchangeable storylines bug the hell out of a lot of people, i love em. nostalgia and fluff are all i need sometimes.

but i don't want a shallow silly story when it's about a serious topic like this one. and this just felt flat. even when i was sixteen and very easily impressed this felt flat.

the abusive boyfriend is a flat villainous person and there's no reason or explanation for why he is the way he is. the victim girlfriend is flat too, with a series of cyclical excuses and logical fallacies for why she can't tell anyone / change anything / leave.

when i was sixteen, i didn't have any relevant life experience to hold counter to this narrative, and it still rang false. now i do and hoo-wee, it is smellin like bullsh*t around here.

i'll still be there for the fluff, though, sarah.

this review is part of a project i'm doing where i review books i read a long time ago. turns out i still have some anger i can use on this one.
May 10, 2023
Wake up, Caitlin, Mr Lensing had said. 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.

I understood those mermaids. I didn't care if they sang to me. All I wanted was to block out all the human voices as they called my name again and again, pulling me upward into light, to drown.

Dreamland was my first Sarah Dessen book, and for some reason I always thought she wrote light-hearted, fun, romantic contemporaries meant for a warm, breezy summer day. But I was so wrong – how utterly wrong I was. When I turned the last page, I sat on my bed for a moment, dazed.

This gritty, emotional tale follows Caitlin, an eternally-second-best, straight-B girl living in the shadow of her absolutely perfect older sister, Cass. But when Cass runs away, their whole family is distraught. Caitlin now has to try and fill the gaping hole Cass left behind, but it's almost impossible when she faces her withdrawn, upset mother and her lackluster father. Caitlin is sidelined or never given much thought to in the face of their great loss.

Then she meets Rogerson. He's charming, funny, mysterious and magnetic, and he gives off a dangerous aura. It isn't long before Caitlin gets involved with him. Being with him makes her forget about everything else that's wanting in her life. But what happens when being with Rogerson becomes a bigger problem than being without him?

Sarah Dessen's prose flows beautifully. It is smooth, compelling, almost lyrical. Before long you are swept up in it, bound towards the inevitable end, and by the time you see the ending coming it is too late. I felt like this reading experience truly wrecked me. Characters really come alive off the page as you read, and every scene felt painfully real. I couldn't put down this train wreck of a book at all.

But I couldn't tell her. I couldn't tell anyone. As long as I didn't say it aloud, it wasn't real.

Caitlin broke my heart. I watched her carry the weight of the world on her shoulders, watched her life begin a downward spiral, and I wept for her. From the heady rush of first love, Caitlin was brutally transported into literal hell. After the first time Rogerson hit her, he only continued to do it repeatedly as the story went on. Her whole life became ruined by fear, as she danced with caution around her boyfriend, always trying to keep him in the best mood she could. Nobody around her saw what was really happening to her, and Caitlin retreated further and further from reality, choosing instead to float through life in a kind of dream. Her gradual decline tugged at heartstrings and brought out all the emotions in me.

I could have just gotten out of the car and walked up to my house, leaving him behind forever. Things would have been very different if I had done that. But the fact was that I loved Rogerson. It wasn't just that I loved him, even: it was that I loved what I was when I was with him. Not a little sister, the pretty girl's sidekick, the second runner-up. All I'd ever wanted was to make my own path, far from Cass's. And even after what had happened, I wasn't ready to give that up just yet.

Sometimes we fall into the easy habit of victim-blaming. Why didn't she still leave him when she could? Why didn't she tell someone the first time? But I know what it is to have loved someone so much you would forgive them anything until it's too late. And so I understood Caitlin, how she struggled with herself for so long. Yet she was brave, and resilient in her own way.

I'm very happy that Sarah Dessen decided to touch on this subject in YA. She didn't just gloss over it either - she fleshed out all the gritty details, creating a poignant masterpiece that will touch the hearts of readers everywhere. There are no words to describe how much I loved this book, or how much it affected me. I myself felt like I was dreaming as I was reading - everything seemed so surreal and impossible. It was as if I was dreaming with Caitlin and then rudely awakened with her, as well.

I was worn out, broken: He had taken almost everything. But he'd been all I'd had, all this time. And when the police led him away, I pulled out of the hands of all these loved ones, sobbing, screaming, everything hurting, to try and make him stay.

The only thing I was a little disappointed with was the little amount of closure we got. After most of the book was so brilliantly written, the ending seemed rushed, which was a letdown so I deducted a star. I would have loved to know more about Caitlin taking the first steps to heal herself both mentally and emotionally, and how she rebuilt her relationships with the people closest to her, instead of a few lines scribbled in the last few chapters.

But otherwise, this book far exceeded my expectations. It was a wonderful read I never saw coming!

"If you didn't love him, this never would have happened. But you did. And accepting that love - and everything that followed it - is part of letting it go."
August 10, 2021

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Sarah Dessen was my jam when I was in high school. Nobody wrote that sweet, sweet angst like she did. Ordinary girls, all caught up in their ordinary problems, lost in their own heads. As an introvert with depression, who was painfully lost in my own head, the narrators of these books really resonated with me. I liked how all of them had a sort of "small town" feel, peopled with side characters who had just as much personality as the narrator. It made them feel so real.

DREAMLAND was one of my favorite books of hers, which is why I decided it would be the first Dessen book I picked for my rereading project. I would say that after JUST LISTEN, it's also the darkest. The book opens with the heroine, Caitlin, finding out that her perfect, Yale-bound sister, Cass, has run away with her boyfriend without telling anyone where she's going. As the family deals with this loss, Caitlin remains in her sister's shadow, trying to fill the void in her life with cheerleading and parties, reluctantly following in her sister's steps.

Then she meets Rogerson and everything changes.

Rogerson is a rich bad boy. He's smart but unmotivated and works dead end jobs, while attending his parents' social functions and selling drugs on the side. He's also an abuser who demands more and more of Caitlin's time, isolating her from her friends and family and then, eventually, turning physical. I thought the way that this story is structured was really brutal because at first it feels like one of those toxic bad boy romances-- so when Rogerson hits Caitlin for the first time, you really feel her shock. It's your shock, too. It feels like such a betrayal. And it is.

DREAMLAND is definitely going to be triggering for some readers but I'm glad I read it, now and back then. Because Dessen does a great job showing cycles of violence, how there are different types of unhealthy relationships (maybe not all of them abusive, but definitely toxic), and how helpless and dissociated people can become to such violence, answering that tiring age-old question, "Why don't you just leave?" It's an emotional read but a worthy one and it holds up really well. Definitely recommend.

4 to 4.5 stars
Profile Image for Sookie.
21 reviews14 followers
August 19, 2007
Dreamland is about a girl named Caitlin. The books starts with her older sister, Cassandra, running away-which leaves Caitlin's family situation in chaos, and also leaves Caitlin to fill her "perfect" sister's place. She joins the cheerleading squad and starts to date a jock-the whole prep girl routine. But that abruptly ends when she meets a bad-boy named Rogerson.

This book was amazingly written-just like Sarah Dessen's other book (that I've read) This Lullaby.
But it's so different. Dreamland is an intense, quick read. It's one of those books that you just have to read. Of course, I don't think this is one of those books that you necessarily have to re-read. Definitely not.
It's a horrific story-one of those that you can olny read through splayed hands and eyes half-squinted. But it's written so convingly.
I've decided that I want to read all of Sarah Dessen's books.
Oh, and just a warning: medium language and some really intense scenes. (Sometimes I just don't understand why authors have to add bad language to their books-it doesn't make the novel more real or interesting than it already is).
Profile Image for Liz.
251 reviews1,967 followers
April 30, 2015
TW: physical and emotional abuse.

Definitely feel like my heart was ripped out of my chest. Definitely was not prepared?! I knew it was going to be darker, but WOWZA. Very well written and so heartbreaking. I don't know how else to review it or to add on to that. Just... Brace yourself, and don't be afraid to give yourself a break and eat some pizza and watch something funny/uplifting while you're reading this one. It's an important one, though. Definitely. I'm glad that there are authors out there who aren't afraid to touch on the really dark stuff. In away, it's like them saying, "You are not alone. You can get help. It will take time, but you will heal."
Profile Image for Pinky.
514 reviews430 followers
November 1, 2015
“See you in dreamland”

Your might find it really hard to believe that I just rated a Sarah Dessen book 2 out of 5 stars. But I didn't really enjoy this book, it was something that I wasn't expecting. I thought this was a book that was fluffy and filled with happiness.


It isn't fluffy and it isn't filled with happiness. It made me feel uncomfortable and it made me feel so depressed. I mean, it was a good book, but this book wasn't meant for me. It dealt with violence and abuse and I had a difficult time reading it. I'll explain why in this review and if you aren't comfortable with violence or abuse, I recommend that you do not read this book.

“If there's one thing I've learned in the last few months, it's that sometimes you just have to close your eyes and jump.”

Caitlin's sister Cass ran away from home. Ever since Cass left, Caitlin's felt lost and at the same time, she feels free. She is so confused and doesn't know what to do with herself. Cass was perfect and had the best future ahead of her, but she chose to run away. When Cass used to live with Caitlin, she felt like she had to follow everything that her sister had done. But now, Caitlin can make her own choices and follow her own path instead of being her sister's shadow. And that's when she meets Rogerson, the guy who changed her life.

“I had this wild thought that he was the only one in all this chaos who was just like me, and that was comforting and profound all at once.”

One of the reasons of why I didn't enjoy this book was probably because of the characters. I wasn't a huge fan of Caitlin and I hated all the choices she made in this book. Rogerson was someone that had features that were good and features that were horrible. I didn't really like him though and I understand why he did the things he did, but I don't care. All the things he did were so wrong and it bothered me so much. I never heard him say "SORRY" and I was so upset. Rina was a character I really liked because she was the only one who knew Caitlin was acting differently. Corrina was brave and made the right choice in the end. Dave was another character that I didn't like. Matthew was interesting and I wish we got to read more about him. Boo and Stewart are awesome! I felt like Caitlin's parents are awesome but they should've paid a bit more attention to Caitlin. I wish we got to read more about Cass and Adam.

When I was reading, I kept putting the book down and doing this:

The choices that the characters made were just so unbelievable. Sometimes, the story was so slow-paced and I would continue reading, waiting for a good part. And then things would get so sad and all I would want to do was put the book away and start crying.

While other times, I wanted to do this to the people who made Caitlin feel this way.

Sometimes, I felt like I got too into the story and I felt like I was the main character. I was going through all the feelings that the character went through and it made me feel so weird. I don't know how to explain the feelings that I went through, but I hated the feels that I went through. I felt like I was apart of the book and I was Caitlin. It was like I was running in wild nightmare. :(

“I couldn't tell her. I couldn't tell anyone. As long as I didn't say it aloud, it wasn't real.”

At some points of this book, I felt so angry and I just couldn't even look at the book anymore. But at the same time, I needed to know how the book ends and it was bothering me.

So I started avoiding the book and one of the things that kept me busy was school homework. Or I watched videos and continued watching Anime,(I LOVE NARUTO BY THE WAY!). But I had nothing to do today and I knew I had to finish the book eventually and I did. And I was happy with how the book ended, but I hated my reading experience.

“It’s so easy to get caught up in what people expect of you. Sometimes, you can just lose yourself”

It scares me because so many people went through this. There are so many people in this world who have been abused. I recommend this book to those who have already read a Sarah Dessen book and want to read a dark novel by her. If you haven't read Sarah Dessen's books and you like dark contemporary novels, I recommend this one. But other than that, if you haven't read any of Sarah Dessen's books, I highly recommend the Lullaby, Just Listen, What Happened to Goodbye, Lock and Key or Along for the Ride.
Profile Image for Rose.
1,879 reviews1,064 followers
September 2, 2015
Pre-read: Yeah, I'm re-reading this book for this year because apparently I'm on a Sarah Dessen kick from my library. I'm really looking forward to it.

Post-read: Dude, I'm still shaking even after I've turned the final page. Much of "Dreamland" hit spot on with respect to the feelings of isolation that Caitlyn felt with things going on with her family and friend circles, and the abuse she suffered just catapulted that strife into the stratosphere.

I really appreciated the chance to re-read this. More reflections to follow in the full review.

Full review:

"Dreamland" was my first read by Sarah Dessen quite a number of years ago, and I recently took the opportunity to re-read it. I remembered this being an emotional read, and I'll admit picking it up again provided me with much the same experience as I did the first time I read it, with a few caveats.

Caitlyn's a young woman with quite a number of struggles on her plate. Having a sister (Cass) who abandoned the family and aspirations towards Yale to join a boyfriend on a talk show mimicking Jerry Springer, Caitlyn's struggles are mostly unseen by her parents, who hope for her Cass's return. Caitlyn also struggles in her social circles at school, joining the cheerleading team (which she's reluctant to do, but finds herself in the mix of things anyway) and becoming a fixation of her mother's in the absence of Cass. It's in this time, between the grief of Cass's departure and parents' distancing that Caitlyn meets Robertson. Robertson seems to give her moments of happiness despite some stern rumors and horrible events that occur to him at home. Yet when she ends up on the other end of his wildly shifting moods and violence, Caitlyn's both stunned and lost to the cycle of his actions against her.

I struggled a little in the beginning of the book with some parts of Caitlyn's characterization, but I did end up caring about her as she misses Cass's presence and feeling the tension of the household that remains in Cass's absence. The way her thoughts come across in the cycle of Robertson's abuse and her desperation were palpable and intense, especially in the second half of the story when people start to notice Caitlyn's change in behavior, clothes, and demeanor. The inclusion of the dream journal and how she enters this state of suspension/non-reality/fear was also well described.

But I longed for a little more backstory on Rogerson (whose family and issues kinda got dropped by the wayside after a time, despite his cycle of abuse against Caitlyn. You'd think some of his issues and how that contributed to his behavior would be explored more, despite a brief showing) as well as some of the other characters who seemed interesting on the surface in Caitlyn's circles, but somehow could've had a little better balance in the mix of the ongoing plot.

It's definitely one that I would recommend to readers who like YA in the spectrum of tough subject matters, with some interesting characters and slice of life pinpoints, though I think it could've had a bit more development and even pacing through the work to make the read more rounded.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.
Profile Image for Robert.
Author 10 books421 followers
March 8, 2014
Like Caitlin, my emotions are all out of whack. If I’m not careful, I may even resort to sucking my thumb, screaming at random times and intervals, rolling around on the grass, flopping on my bed, or sticking my feet up in the air and playing dead. It’s really hard to say what I might do, and if I tried to pin it down, my response would be filled with conjecture, and I prefer to deal in facts.

The fact is I hated this novel. Hated it with a passion, because it discussed abuse, and I prefer to look at the world through rose-colored glasses and deal in unicorns and rainbows and Popsicle sticks and ice cream sandwiches. But this is one world that is filled with a vast emptiness that extends for miles and miles.

When I go to sleep, I dream of Junior Mints and Butterfingers and Milk Duds. I certainly do not wake up screaming in the night, or cover myself in cold sweats and silently stare out of open windows with my mouth offered up in the open position. I certainly don’t have a negative view of the world.

So, yeah, it was hard for me to understand someone that might. Not just hard, it was nearly impossible, as I struggled with it throughout the course of this novel. DREAMLAND was a virtual world for me, and it was filled with potholes and minefields and .44 Magnums pointed in my direction. The gun didn’t go off thankfully, but it was darn close, and it was pretty damn big.

Rogerson pinpointed everything I hate about this world. No, hate is probably too strong a word. But extreme dislike might not be far off the mark. He might even qualify as a beautiful bastard, I don’t know. And, frankly, Caitlin put up with way too much of his shit, and she needed to develop a few more thoughts for herself. Not maybe, this is a definitive requirement.

Otherwise, this was a beautifully written novel with fully developed characters and passionate prose and a flowing storyline that kept me on my toes. Had I liked either of the main characters, I might have even rated this novel higher.

Cross-posted at Robert's Reads
Profile Image for Cory.
Author 1 book398 followers
March 7, 2010
This was probably the worst Sarah Dessen book I've ever read. None of the characters are likable except for Boo, her mother's friend who lives next door and she barely plays a part in the story. I expect not to like the protagonist of a Dessen novel but I really hated Caitlin. I was wondering exactly how dumb she could get after stupid antic after stupid antic. I know that she was 'broken' after having her sister run away but the sister was going to be at college anyway. That should have been explained way more. And I was just wondering again and again what Caitlin saw in Rogerson. He was a jerk, nothing more. Except that somehow he was a genius too. Who sold drugs and hit her. Amazing combo. Her family and friends warned her about the guy but she still saw him anyway.

I didn't like her friend either, Rina. I usually like the best friends in Dessen novels. And I usually like the Dessen boys but this one I despised. He had a cameo in Lock and Key btw as Marshall's best friend.

Like I said this was a boring book. The worst Dessen book ever. If you want a good Dessen book about a girl with 'problems' read This Lullaby. It's a million times better.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Arminzerella.
3,745 reviews87 followers
January 3, 2009
I'd been wanting to read something by Sarah Dessen for awhile. She's one of those prominent YA authors, and I've heard good things about her books...although not so much as to tell me what they were about. So while I was at the library the other day, I picked up one of her titles at random and read the back – description of the “hot” guy. I decided, sure, why not? So Dreamland came home with me.

It starts out with a gripper – on Caitlin's 16th birthday, her sister Cassandra, 2 years older, runs away to be with her boyfriend who is a bouncer/security guy on some crazy talk show (akin to Jerry Springer/Jenny Jones). This is totally out of character for Cass, who has always been the model student, person, daughter. And everyone is lost without her. Caitlin is sort of drifting the whole time – into one thing or another. She ends up being a cheerleader and describes the experience as something that “just happened” to her. In fact, many of her decisions are made on the basis of whether it would be different from something Cass has done. She does make a conscious decision to start dating Rogerson, though – the hot boy described on the back cover. Rogerson has problems of his own – an abusive father, a criminal record, and he continues to sell pot and narcotics even after his arrest. But he and Caitlin seem to understand one another. Until one day, when Caitlin fails to meet him at an agreed upon time, he hits her. And then it's like he can't stop hitting her. And she can't stop seeing him.

At this point in the story, I sighed, because this story has been told time and time again: woman trapped in an abusive relationship, can't bring herself to leave. And I prepared myself to slog through it, waiting to be deliberately manipulated by a heavy-handed author...but it didn't happen that way at all. The abuse was bad, but it was like I was in the same drifty dreamworld that Caitlin was in...and I felt her fear and trepidation, but I also felt her strength and the conflict within her. No one thinks that they will ever be in this kind of situation. No one wants it. But it struck a chord with me, because Caitlin loved Rogerson, and saw something behind his hurting her...which is what made it so difficult for her to leave him. It made me think about how hard it is to walk away from something you are so bound up with emotionally...even when things are bad. And this story did not HARP on about the good days and how Rogerson was so good. Caitlin didn't see it like that. She just saw those days/times as being safe. She could be with him and not have to worry about being hurt.

She does get out of it. Something within her crumbles, and she just can't move...and someone sees Rogerson beating her. She ends up in therapy in a psychiatric hospital, where she gets the rest she needs, and gets to talk about what's happened to her since her sister left. And we aren't left with the feeling that everything is going to be happily ever after, but at least we know that Caitlin is free of this hurt, and she's on her way to healing.

This moved me, and I can be SO immoveable when I've decided not to like something. I'm so glad I gave it a chance, even when the PLOT was revealed. Thank you Sarah Dessen for not being heavy-handed, and for telling this kind of a story in a new and meaningful way.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Grace.
179 reviews31 followers
October 14, 2012
*This review (and more) can also be found on my blog: The Humble Watermelon*

What makes Sarah Dessen's books so special is the fact that you feel like you can actually relate to the characters. Also, the plots are almost always the same, complete with a girl, a boy, and some romance, and the main character always has some kind of emotionally damaging problem they have to deal with, but it never seems repetitive.

Dreamland was haunting. It was disturbing. Not words you usually associate with Dessen, the queen of summer romance and chick flicks. But words that Dessen definitely pulled off.

I had to take a few breaks from Dreamland, first because I finally got ahold of Insurgent, and then because somebody lend me The Maze Runner. Yet every time I came back to read this book, I didn't feel very distant from it or confused, because the plot just sucked me right in, like the last time I read the book was not a week ago, but a day ago.

The thing about Sarah Dessen is that she gives you a lot of time to know the characters more, and then after a couple of hundred pages or so she actually gets into the plot. Normally, this kind of format would greatly annoy me, but with Dessen's books, I think it actually works really great. By knowing the characters with more details and revealing many different sides of them, everything in the story just seems to be more vivid, more rich.

Caitlyn is the kind of girl that can easily be persuaded at her weak point, but has a very strong will and drive. Honestly, I was more emphatic towards her than sympathetic, but I felt like she was a pretty well-rounded female lead. Now Rogerson brought a whole new dynamic to the story. Whereas Caitlyn was hesitant, forgiving and slightly self conscious, Rogerson was mysterious, impatient, and possessed quite a temper. In fact, Dessen made these two characters- well, all the characters- all so complex and developed that I fear I may not ever have the right words to describe them.

Caitlyn and Rogerson's relationship was what you could call unexpected and tumultuous. I desperately wanted to yell at Caitlyn to get away from this abusive relationship, yet I understood how she really couldn't. It's that kind of relationship that draws you, drowns you in with a brutal force, and never let's you out of its grasp. Sometimes, you might be able to wiggle a little looser from it, yet you just can't completely set yourself free. It puts you in a daze, a hallucination where you think that everything's all right, yet you know that it's not.

Sarah Dessen definitely blew me away with this one. All the elements in this story- the relationships, the family dynamic, the pain, the emotions- interwove with each other in perfect harmony. She made the book feel so light, so eerie, and ever so fascinating. Just like you were in dreamland.
Profile Image for Katya.
390 reviews50 followers
March 22, 2008
I'm on my post-final YA fiction binge and working my way through the roommate's Sarah Dessen books. This one was, in my opinion, sadly lacking. Dessen gets into the head of an abused girlfriend very well, and the slow slide into an abusive relationship is believable. However, we never find out why her boyfriend was abusing her, leaving him to be a one-dimensional 'bad boy' and the circumstances around their relationship remained shallow. I don't have much patience for people who are too weak to stand up for themselves, unfortunately, so this was another reason why this book bothered me. However, if you don't like it because of the subject matter, get over it. Stop being so goddamn sheltered, you could learn something.
Profile Image for thepessimisticreader.
288 reviews38 followers
March 2, 2022
The hair! I did not need a reminder twice every chapter that love-interest boy has dreadlocks. Thanks though.

Relationships are essentially a power struggle, a game of manipulations. From important life-altering decisions, to which radio station to listen to. You must decide whether to fight or conform. There are many underlying factors in this novel that make me want to venture as far as saying "it's pretty deep," but I'm almost positive that it's because my twelfth grade English teacher taught me to analyze words, to dig down deep into their bones to find some secret, hidden meaning, and that I'm just romanticizing the heck out of Dreamland. I think the meaning of this novel was left open to interpretation, and it really bothers me.

This novel is narrated past-tense by Caitlin O'Koren, a girl who celebrates her sweet sixteen by frantically searching for her runaway sister, Cass. Her sister is the family jewel, complete with first-place medals, a place on student council, and an acceptance letter to Yale University, all while being a first-class jerk who chooses her sister's birthday as the date she runs away. Stay classy, Cass. Caitlin sees herself as a watered-down Cass, who never took gold, and never met her parents high expectations. In her efforts to be less like her "perfect" sister, she joined the cheerleading squad, started smoking pot, and willingly complied to an abusive boyfriend because he made her feel "special."

It is said throughout the narration that Caitlin would not leave Rogerson because she liked the person that he molded her into. I don't think she realized that smoking pot (which is all he taught her to do) is not what makes or breaks a person. So if you took away her stoner persona, all that's left is Rogerson's punching bag.

What makes me question my opinion of this novel is that I can (at times) understand Caitlin's thinking. I have wrote essays and essays on domestic violence and feminism, and I can wholeheartedly feel for this girl, yet I still hate her. Her character is a pathetic example, there are countless real situations with real men and women and even children who suffer abuse, and all have a very valid reason why they cannot leave that particular relationship. I don't see Caitlin's reason. She had parents to support her, she did not rely on Rogerson financially, they had no children, he was not blackmailing or threatening to kill her. Sure, she loved him. But he obviously did not respect her, his love for her was warped and distorted and wrong. A kind of love that is barely worthy of the name. Her character does not suggest that she would stay with him, it doesn't make sense. And she would not have left him if her mother had not stepped in. Her mother saved her, yet the story is portrayed as "girl saves herself." Excuse me? No. Not an appropriate role model for young adults in toxic relationships.

Reasons why I hate Caitlin:

1. "He was just a stupid jock who wanted a cheerleader--not me." 101. This quote is regarding Mike Evans, the almost boyfriend. Okay, you child, check your uniform, what the heck are you? I know its a hard one. Oh yeah, a cheerleader. As if other cheerleaders don’t have three-dimensional personalities, individual hopes and dreams, or their own ambitions, no, it’s just you, Cait.

2. Her whole character is a contradiction forged in the fires of hypocrisy.

3. She hates cheerleading but won't quit. FOR NO REASON.

4. She mentions many times that Cass' heart was broken by her ex-boyfriend Jason Packer, and then contradicts that by justifying why she can't talk to Cass about her situation because Cass would never let a man hurt her. Would a smart, strong, independent girl let a loser named Jason Packer treat her badly? I want a real reason why she won't speak to her sister. Not some bullcrap excuse, because Cass should be the last one to pass judgement on a sorry love life.

5. In an effort to be less like her sister who ran away with guy who her friends and family disapproved of... she also screws off with a guy her family and friends immediately disapprove of? What?

This could have been an awesome way to show readers that individuality and blazing your own path is difficult, that human behaviour persuades you to follow behind others like a good little clone. The moral of the story could be that it's hard to separate yourself from others, hard not to imitate people you admire, it could have ACTUALLY been a "wake up" novel.

6. Silly little thing darn near immediately falls head over tits with Rogerson, everyone knows Goodreads hates insta-love.

7. Is it just me, but typically when some creepy, drug dealing dude in a beat up car tries to touch me, I back way the heck up rather than lose myself in his oh-so-dreamy eyes as he casually examines a bruise on my arm.

I think a lot of work went into romanticizing the heck out of Rogerson, and I didn't fall for it. Sure, he's a genius in the making with random trivia knowledge (the exact type of patent-Dessen quirk that entices readers). If, and only if, Rogerson was a fully formed character would I pity him. A lot is left to the imagination. We know Daddy Dearest beats him, but we know nothing about how this effects him psychologically, except that he often "shuts down" and smokes weed as an escape, but even this is mostly inferring. It makes sense that Rogerson is trapped in a vicious circle of violence and sucks Caitlin into it, yet we don't see this explained, Rogerson is left as a 2D character who beats his girlfriend because it makes him feel better? Maybe? He's just a selfish, abusive prick, there's nothing more to this character.

Why this book makes me rethink my opinion:

We see Caitlin throw a little pity party for herself and get sucked down into a whirlpool of bad decisions, but we never see a psychological impact with fully formed reasoning. However, we can infer that Rogerson understands this concept of fighting and conformity, and uses both to his advantage.

Example: He buys Caitlin a milkshake after he hits her the first time, he conforms to what he knows she likes in an attempt to make her forget that he's an arsehole. Because nice guys give their babes milkshakes, so he isn't a manipulative prick or anything. He always lets her choose the radio station after one of his outbursts, a peace offering. He makes her think she's in control, when really, he's pulling her strings.

With a little more polishing, this book could have been outstanding. It could have offered a unique perspective into the mind of an abuser. Yet, it didn't. I'm just analyzing the heck out of Dreamland again. But this book didn’t have time to be outstanding because we need a new one with a different but usually identical, quirky main character every year.

There was a time when I was fresh out of middle school, when I thought this book was enlightening and insightful, it was very impactful on my life (probably one of the reasons for all those essays). It had left me feeling sick in the way that a life-changing book makes you feel.

But this time around... I feel like I've outgrown it, that there are real situations with fully-formed human characters that I can actually empathize with. Caitlin just sucked, and Rogerson was a half-fleshed-out villain. I've heard enough sob stories to justify their toxic behaviours from infants who fancied themselves potheads back in high school, and I'm over it. I really don't think a concept like domestic violence can be accurately captured in YA fiction. I will never read this again, and I do not recommend it to people who like strong, fully-formed characters or a plot line that is not full of holes. I also do not recommend it to people suffering in abusive relationships, should I ever find a better narrative about domestic violence, I will recommend it here.

Happy reading anyway! I hope all is well with you and you’re staying strong and safe <3
Profile Image for Dee.
56 reviews
March 7, 2010
THAT'S IT! I am sick of Sarah Dessen and her so-called "incredible" writing.

This book was about a 16-year-old girl named Caitlin. Her sister has just ran away from home, and her boyfriend Rogerson has taken a liking to beating her.

Why are Sarah Dessen's characters SO STUPID? I wanted to smack this chick. HOW STUPID CAN ONE GET? Caitlin stays with her abusive boyfriend because it "feels right". Caitlin starts smoking and doing drugs because it "feels right". Caitlin breaks her committment to the cheerleading team because it "feels right". Really, Caitlin? WHY WOULD YOU PUT YOURSELF THROUGH THIS? No one deserves the things she's going through, SO WHY DIDN'T SHE GET HELP? There were plenty of people to talk to. What annoys me is that she blames her parents for not noticing. You know what, Caitlin? That's your fault. Do you think that your parents are going to notice something you're hiding when they have their other things to think about, like maybe trying to find your sister who ran away from home?

I have no tolerance for stupid people. This book was a total waste of my time.
Profile Image for catherine ♡.
1,211 reviews160 followers
November 4, 2020
This is probably one of the more memorable Sarah Dessen books. It's definitely the one that's the most different, and it touches upon the issue of emotional abuse and violence in a way that is realistic, yet heartbreaking.

It was definitely sometimes frustrating, especially if you don't agree with the main character's actions, but overall, it was a good read.
Profile Image for Christina (A Reader of Fictions).
4,280 reviews1,654 followers
February 9, 2017
Whoa. This was different. I've read two Dessen books prior to this one, Just Listen and This Lullaby. I very much enjoyed both of them, and, based on my experiences with them, I cataloged Sarah Dessen's fiction as intermediate contemporaries, balancing dark issues with optimism and sweet romance. Thus, I found the fact that they repackaged all of her books to look like shiny, happy summer reads odd. Well, it's odder still, since Dreamland is dark all the way through, depressing almost in its entirety.

As in The Sky Is Everwhere by Jandy Nelson, we begin with a girl living in the shadow of her perfect older sister. In this case, however, the older sister isn't dead, merely gone, run away to who knows where. Caitlin has always used her sister as a bit of an excuse not to excel or be special, knowing she could not measure up, and, without Cass around, Caitlin doesn't have any clue who to be.

In the absence of Cass, Caitlin's overprotective mother switches her focus to the remaining daughter. When Cass makes the cheerleading team, having been pressed to audition by her steamrolling best friend, Rina, her mother gets involved the same way she always did for Rina. Nothing cheers Caitlin, though. She both misses Cass and relishes the idea that now maybe she will shine for a change, but has no idea how to do that. The reader can feel Caitlin's lack of direction and disconnection from the world.

In her continuing search to be her own person and do things Cass never did, Caitlin begins dating a bad boy. Now, you know all those popular books these days about heroines dating bad boys with hearts of gold, who make their girlfriends into better people? This is NOT one of those. Rogerson Biscoe most definitely is a bad boy. He deals drugs, bosses Caitlin around, and completely monopolizes her life. Dessen shows the attraction such a boy possesses, while also conveying a definite message. The portrayal of their relationship is realistic and utterly horrifying. Rather than helping her become her own person, Rogerson lets her live for him instead; Caitlin remains a shell of a person.

Much as I love Dessen's writing, I do not feel this is one of her best novels. For one thing, I think the messages might have gone down better with a little bit more breadth of emotion. Pretty much the only feelings I got from this were sadness and hopelessness. Dark fiction works best with some other emotions juxtaposed to really set off the tragedy of the situation and to make everything feel more real.

Also, I had a really hard time accepting that her family, her neighbors, and Rina all failed to notice her downward spiral. The girl was stoned all of the time, constantly at the beck and call of her boyfriend, lost weight, and was doing perpetually worse in class, among other things. Her mother may have been busy trying to get Cass back, but I think she would still have noticed something. Rina seemed mostly to forget about Caitlin for much of the novel. These reactions just did not seem true to the characters.

Sarah Dessen's Dreamland is an unrelentingly dark story of a girl struggling to find her own identity. If you are tired of all of the romanticized bad boys, this story will appease.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,519 reviews8,985 followers
April 8, 2009
"Dreamland" is the first novel I've read from Sarah Dessen, and I had high expectations of it due to all the hype my friends go on and on about from her books. I was not dissapointed. This book is about sixteen year old Caitlin, the B-honor roll bronze medal award getter. It starts out that on her birthday her older, more perfect sister Cassandra runs away to live with her boyfriend. She quickly tries to fill the void her sister has created for her but instead falls right into it. She starts exhibiting dangerous behavior and even gets a new, destructive boyfriend - Rogerson Biscoe.

This book just tells the story that so many girls and women must face these days. It perfectly narrates why Caitlin is suffering and can't get out, so readers that are new to this subject understand the pain she is going through. The beggining where Cass ran way was beautifuly written, the middle sometimes felt forced for me, but the ending picked right back up and was told perfecly. I would give this book 4.5 stars, but because that's not a choice I think it deserves higher than 4 so I am giving it a 5/5 star.
Profile Image for Obsidian.
2,791 reviews961 followers
April 19, 2017
So this was a short book to get through (only 260 pages) but it left a big impact. I thought at first that things moved a bit slow, but once you get to the meat of the story, you won't be able to put this down at all. You are going to just be shocked and dismayed at the things that are going on with the main character (Caitlin) throughout this book.

"Dreamland" opens on Caitlin's birthday when she and her parents realize that her older sister Cassandra has ran away to be with a guy she fell in love with after like three weeks. Cassandra does not go to Yale and stays away from her family and refuses to talk to them. Caitlin is left adrift since she is not used to being her, without her perfect older sister nearby to emulate. This leaves a hole in Caitlin where a boy named Rogerson Biscoe (his name even sounds douchey) steps in. Before Caitlin realizes it, somehow her whole life becomes Rogerson.

I felt for Caitlin. Her mother becomes a barely functioning person at first, and her father is in denial after her sister runs away. She's trying her best to not be a problem, that even means not complaining when no one celebrates her birthday. She's talked into joining the cheerleading squad by her best (and only friend) though she doesn't want to and after she starts seeing Rogerson, her grades fall and she's spending most of her time getting high with him and his other friends. It's like a slow roll to another world and Caitlin doesn't know how to or even want to really get out of it. That is until Rogerson hits her the first time. And then the book goes dark. Because you read about Caitlin's justifications, her fear, her starting to realize after a while that even when she's perfect that Rogeron really just wants a reason to hit her. I wanted to scoop up this fictional character and hug her.

Dessen does a good job of showing Caitlin realizing that she's in a bad relationship, but not really knowing how to get out of it. And with her parents still focused on other matters, it becomes easy for her to fool them into thinking everything is okay with her.

Dessen always has recurring characters in her YA books and I swear that Rogerson was in Lock and Key (which I also loved). Too bad no one ran him over with a car.

I also love how Dessen shows all of these women in this book in relationships they call "love" but honestly are not. Or at least I would not call them love between two people who trust and respect each other. Cassandra's life is a mess and her deciding that her parents put all their hopes into her to have her run off with some dude did not endear her to me at all. Even Caitlin's best friend who is only defined when she is dating someone I found a bit sad. So when Caitlin even when she realizes that Rogerson hitting her is awful and she doesn't think she can keep hanging on to him, I get why she hid what was going on and kept trucking along with it. That's cause she's told over and over again that love is the answer even when the other person is not right for you. I think a little window opens up a bit when Caitlin finds out another friend of hers finally had it with her deadbeat boyfriend and left him.

The writing was raw and honest. And I loved how you had Caitlin slowly coming into her own and realizing that maybe her sister was not as perfect as she always thought.

The ending was a surprise and I love that the book didn't just take an easy way out with and everything was super okay with everyone, the end.
Profile Image for Elle G. Reads.
1,597 reviews774 followers
October 24, 2017
Release Date: June 2012
Genre: Young Adult Fiction. Social Issues. Dating Violence

Dreamland is my first exploration into a Sarah Dessen novel. Surprisingly, this book was much darker and emotional than I had previously anticipated. I knew there would be some talk about teen dating violence and that the heroine of the story was dealing with some heavy issues, but I didn’t realize the extent of it all. This book, with the subject of physical abuse between two teenagers, is a hard one too read. Not because the author can’t write a good story (she clearly can) but because this subject is a hard one to read about and consider. It is an important one though and I think many teenagers would be good candidates for this novel- even adults and parents of teenagers.

One thing that struck me the most about this novel is the feeling of not being able to decide WHO you ARE. All of us have been teenagers at some point in our life and I bet many of us questioned who we were, what we were going to do with our lives, and all that kind of stuff. All of this is a struggle, especially considering the age we are at when we are trying to decide our future. This in itself, is a major theme in the novel, one that great affects many teenagers today. I think the author did a wonderful job at portraying a teenage girl as such because it holds so much truth.

With that, this is the story of a girl who doesn’t know what she wants or who she wants to be. In her confusion about life and family she meets a boy named Rogerson. They quickly get caught up in one another, fall in love, and everything else fades away. But when Rogerson- the boy from the wrong side of the tracks- begins to physically hurt Caitlin, things begin to spiral out of control. What was once a life filled with confusion on how to grow up into the person she wanted to be turns into a painful game of just trying to keep the anger of Rogerson so he won’t hurt her.

Readers beware, this is not a lovey dovey book with sunshine and roses that will make teenage love seem magical. This is a story about a confused girl and the abusive relationship she finds herself in. Readers will most likely cringe at the physical descriptions of this abuse, but the topic is so important that it won’t matter all the much. This is a story that will affect you and make you think twice..
Profile Image for laaaaames.
524 reviews97 followers
July 10, 2007
I actually enjoyed this book a great deal. It's a bit heavier in theme than most of Dessen's work, which I enjoyed, as it fit her tone well. But I wish she would stop writing cautionary tale-type fare; it's unfair to the target readers. Time and time again Dessen's stories don't stand on their own but instead as lessons to young girls to be good, that "bad boys" lead to trouble, that drinking leads to bad decision-making, that sex is not without its punishments, that generally boys know best.

I like Dessen's prose a lot, which is why I keep reading her. And this book would have had me more without this one measly section about IF ONLY the protagonist had gone out with the jock and not the "bad boy". Um, really? What about if she'd seen the bad boy for what he was all along? Why on earth does it have to be such an either/or situation with a boy headlining each option?

I'll keep reading her because I like her stories, but I am not wild about what young girls will pick up from her lessons.
Profile Image for Alaina.
6,423 reviews215 followers
May 24, 2018
Dreamland was an okay kind of book. I've heard friends talk about how good this book was.. so I guess I was expecting it to be something more than what I got. It's about Caitlin and her sister Cassandra but it's mostly about Caitlin forever living in her sisters shadow. Which must suck ass and I have no idea how parents or siblings do that..

Well one day Cass leaves her family which of course changes the whole family dynamic. Caitlin feels like she needs to step in for her family but it actually kind of back-spirals in a way? At least until she meets Rogerson, who is the mysterious bad boy in her life. After meeting him she is definitely scared about her choices and how far she has spiraled down in the unknown darkness. She's also wondering if she's going to continue falling.

I feel like I would've liked this book a lot more if I could've connected with the characters. Yes, I have an older sister and brother but none of them or myself were the apple of our parents eyes. No one got special treatment. It was 3 vs. 2 people. WE owned them. They were our bitches. WE knew it and they knew it.

I also didn't like how one sister was the golden child and the other was a limp noodle. It just doesn't fly with me. In my opinion, I feel like every child should be loved by their parents. No matter what the circumstances are. If you have a kid - you better own that shit.

Overall, it was an okay book. I didn't love it and I didn't hate it. I feel like I was just expecting more with all of the great reviews and recommendations.
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 7 books1,212 followers
March 9, 2015
And this was a perfect reminder why calling Sarah Dessen a romance author pisses me off. This is NOT a romance by any stretch of that word.

What an intense, disturbing, painful look at dating abuse. This is a story about feeling powerless and weak, about how you function and operate when staying in the abusive relationship seems safer than getting out.

Wow. Wow. Wow. This is a gut punch.
Profile Image for Michelle.
Author 12 books1,387 followers
August 24, 2008
This book started slow for me, but I definitely got more into it as the story went on. The author does a good job of pulling the reader into Caitlin's plight; I cared what happened next.

That said, I had trouble with the way the abusive relationship was portrayed. I've done a lot of volunteer work in this area and abuse tends to happen in a "cycle"... the abuse occurs, then the abuser apologizes/says he'll never do it again/loves on the victim big time/etc. It goes from absolute terror to absolute bliss and then the cycle starts again. And ongoing abusive relationships involve no small amount of manipulation/screwing with the mind. The typical "no one loves you like I do" or "you deserved it; I didn't want to hit you, you made me." That type of stuff. And in this book, while I could see why Caitlin was attracted to Rogerson in the first place, I couldn't get why she'd stay with him because he did none of that manipulation. Of course it's easy to say "why stay" about any abusive relationship when you've not been in one, but usually it's pretty clear why (whether financial reasons, state of mind, the manipulation). In this book, once Rogerson started hitting her, he was a jerk the rest of the time. None of the "I'm sorry" or kissing up or any of that. Just flat out asshole. It made his character and their relationship seem really flat. Just the downs, none of the ups. So I just didn't buy into it the way I have other stories similar in nature. But I do think it was smart and brave of the author to tackle this issue for young adults as I think people overlook this happens in high school relationships too. So kudos to her for that.
334 reviews174 followers
February 7, 2011
Before this book, I'd only read one other book by Sarah Dessen--Lock and Key. And while it was a pretty decent read, I wasn't sure what the whole fuss over Sarah Dessen was about. And now I totes do!

I didn't really know much about the novel before reading it...besides for it involving dating abuse. And I kind of love 'issue' novels, so this one sounded right up my alley. And it was!

The story starts off with the the MC Caitlin's sister Cass running away on her (Caitlin's) sixteenth birthday. Cass had been a bit of an overachiever, overshadowing Caitlin without ever meaning to, even though both sister's were best friends. Her sudden departure leaves her family shocked, who'd never have expected her to be so rash and reckless.

So we get that Caitlin feels as if her family could do without her, the one who was always just...there. And that's when she meets Rogerson, a mysterious yet freakin'-hot dude with whom she can shed her 'always-on-the-safe-side' persona.

The narration was absolutely beautiful--stunning in its simplicity. As dark as the subject matter is, there are some uplifting moments too, specifically at the end. And the dark stuff was handled brilliantly, too--it had me rooting for Caitlin, understanding why she kept up with Rogerson's abuse, while at the same time crying along with her when things got really rough.

Basically, I understand now why Sarah Dessen's so awesome--her stories have a way of falling together near the end and creating such a beautiful impact on you. I am so reading the rest of her books, which I was going to do anyway, but will do so now with more eagerness.
392 reviews334 followers
July 8, 2011
This is the first Dessen book that actually really enjoyed. I have read Just Listen and Lock and Key and while I liked them I thought the plot tended to drag a lot. While with Dreamland I found it interesting and entertaining from start to finish.

There is no doubt that Dessen has beautiful prose. Some times a little too wordy for my liking but definitely thoughtful and gorgeous writing.

The characters were well developed and likeable. I even had a bit of a crush on bad boy Rogerson at the beginning until he did the unforgivable. So I liked that you could clearly see what Caitlyn was attracted to Rogerson in the first place.

Overall, this book has definitely encouraged me to read more of Dessen's work. Just a really good read.
Profile Image for Gabriela .
777 reviews324 followers
April 4, 2015
I cannot find a single good thing to say about this. That's how bad it was.
This is by far my least favorite Sarah Dessen book. She talks about a very serious theme that must be portrayed and discussed, specially by YA books. However, she took the easy way out and the main character's voice falls flat and the whole situation is so badly written and annoying that I was counting the pages until it was over.
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