The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

By Megan Bosarge

It’s a funny thing, dreaming. We can’t define what it is really. A state of heightened brain activity? A way of processing the events of the day? A side effect of too much spicy food before bed? Some believe dreams hold deeper meaning, that they reveal secrets of the subconscious. Or perhaps, in the case of Karen Thompson Walker’s YA thriller The Dreamers, dreams are a doorway to the future, or even another world. People fall into a sleep from which they cannot wake, and experience dreams that perplex doctors and psychologists. 

It’s Outbreak meets Inception told in poetic, multi-perspective prose that will make you afraid to close your eyes. 

It starts in a college dorm, where a girl stumbles into her room with flu-like symptoms and unbearable exhaustion. The next morning, her roommate cannot wake her, nor can the paramedics. She continues to sleep while doctors determine there’s nothing wrong with her. Then, slowly, her heart stops beating. People of Santa Lora, California chalk it up to tragedy until one by one, more students and the entire city falls into slumber. California cordons off the town and people struggle to contain the disease while caring for the thousands of helpless “dreamers”. Two college students cling together, a young couple tries desperately to protect their newborn baby, and a father and his two daughters ride out the chaos in his home. But it is only a matter of time before the disease comes for them, too. 

When people mysteriously begin waking, it is clear the disease has manifested itself differently in each of them. One man experiences what he later realizes to be a deadly premonition. A young girl remembers an entire life with a child she raised to be a man, and cannot come to reconcile this life with the one she dreamed. 

This story made me afraid to sleep. More importantly, it made me question my reality. If one can dream of an entire life, who’s to say that our lives are nothing more than a powerful dream? 

In the words of Descartes, we think, therefore we are. But in Karen Thompson Walker’s oneiric nightmare, if we dream, were we ever real? 

After reading The Dreamers, you’ll never feel the same about taking a nap again. 

Categories: Book Reviews

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