January 02, 2006

One Sarah Dessen deserves another

A. Fortis first described Dessen's compact and powerful prose, and I took another gamble on this writer with a serious book about a love story gone horribly wrong. Dessen's novel, Dreamland, contains one of the best emotional descriptions of an battered woman I've ever read. Dessen describes Caitlin's helpless, sort of dreamy sensation of floating internally as a dreamland from which she only awakens when her boyfriend calls her. It is his voice which makes her snap to -- or else.

Protagonist Caitlin is losing herself. Since her sister ran away from home, she's been dancing double-time to fill in -- to be the daughter that her parents miss, but also to be the self she's longed to be without the shadow of a brilliant and perfect elder sister. Caitlin's connection to the world around her grows hazier and hazier and she finds first her teachers, then her best friends and finally her parents voices growing fainter and fainter. It's like she's drowning -- and the hand she's straining for belongs to someone who just might pull her up -- or may be the one who has pushed her down to begin with.

An ugly topic and an important read. It's not how it happens for everyone, but it's one explanation of how a girl could get into a battering relationship, something that seems inexplicable at times to outsiders.


tanita s. davis said...

UPDATE: You know what? The more I think about it, the more I understand what didn't quite ring true for me, in this book. I like Dessen's work, but I still haven't yet read a "satisfying" book on battering (except, possibly the scary and definitely non-YA epic "Black & Blue," by Anna Quinlain, but that was more about the creepiness of a policeman-battering-spouse.). What I disliked about this book was the roller-coaster effect of the 'justs' -- that feeling of, "Well, if she just told someone, or just turned around and walked away, or just..." you know what I mean? I, as reader, wasn't sold on the situation occuring. If solutions were so obvious to me, I wasn't inside of the protagonist's skin enough for the book experience to be true, to feel real - for the choices before me to be agonizing, for the relationship to be as enmeshed and all-encompassing as it probably was. I was feeling, instead, like I was on the outside, observing, and that means I doubted the writer's ability to really convey what goes on in the head of a battered person. Not that I wish Dessen firsthand knowledge, but I didn't buy it, and that's why I don't try and write about Big Issues like that anymore. I'm not successful at it, and I haven't yet found a writer who can write up to that Beliveablity Quotient who hasn't been there... and not a whole lot of battered YA people are YA writers concurrently...

So I amend: this may have been the best book so far I may have read about the issue of teen battering, but it still comes across as an "issue" book, and thus not really as real and about the human drama as it could have been.

tanita s. davis said...

Has anyone read Dessen's Someone Like You, or seen the movie "How to Deal" with Mandy Moore? Apparently the movie is based on the book... I just wondered if the movie did the book justice or not.

tanita s. davis said...

Me again, can't seem to let this die:

I have now read Someone Like You, This Lullabye, and all other Dessen books upon which I can lay my hands. I've noticed two things:

1. The boys are all impossibly wonderful -- until or unless.
2. The novels she writes about the friendships that girls have seem to take cues from the boys -- some of the best guys in her novels act like ...they've been around super cool, mature girls. Or else they fake it well.

Interesting. I end up half in love with all of the male characters, and in the end, I'll bet that's what keeps Dessen her female readers, partially. Well done!