Review: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned. 

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

A sleeping sickness spreads across a town in California – what’s the cause of it? What will happen to those afflicted? Even scarier, what will happen to those who remain and witness it all?

The story was extremely interesting, and I was desperate to get to the bottom of the mystery of the sleeping sickness. However, the story wasn’t really about what caused the sickness or how it would be cured, but rather, the story focused on what the handful of characters felt/experienced during the epidemic.
So, if any perspective readers are going in thinking this is a big mystery with explosive twists and endings, there are very few of these, perhaps one or two minor twists in a character’s personal story, rather than the actual plot of the sleeping sickness.

The pace of the book, for me, was extremely sluggish. The narrative style didn’t help matters, albeit it was quite alluring at first and there was, at times, beautiful prose that had such an illustrative effect, which was enjoyable. Although, I found the style of writing to be overly descriptive as well, so much so I found myself pushing onwards to get to the end of the story; both to finish the book and also get all the answers I wanted.

The Dreamers has an array of characters; some that were likeable, some that weren’t. There were two little girls with a paranoid survivalist father, some freshman college kids, a couple with a new born baby, an elderly couple and a doctor separated from her little girl.
I am in mixed minds about the amount of alternating characters there were. I really liked it on one hand, as their personal circumstances and stories were interesting, and showed different angles of the crisis. But it was also annoying, because all of their stories could have had more to them, been developed further, if the book had fewer alternating characters. For some of the characters, I would really have appreciated this.

At the height of the epidemic, I didn’t have any deep connection to the majority of the characters to care enough. Although, toward the end of the book, for two characters, there were such tragedies in this book, that did have an emotional impact (their faith and idea of reality was challenged)

Overall, the narrative style and the use of multiple characters, in my opinion, would have been better as a mini apocalyptic series on television. I found the book to have quite profound moments, through the different characters: the mystery of dreams, philosophy, existential questions. On the whole, I did enjoy the story, but I didn’t love it either. It’s one of those books I’d have to say someone needs to choose for themselves; I can’t recommend it, but I can’t not recommend it either, but hopefully my review may help. I read this book in 2 days and have decided to give it 3 stars, because of the idea of the story, the interesting character stories, and my emotional connection to the outcome of two characters endings.


Buy It Now

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Published 1st February
Genre: mystery, science fiction, dystopia, contemporary

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