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 out of 5 stars