I’m a big fan of C.S. Friedman, so I was eager to get my hands on her latest novel, Dreamwalker. This is Friedman’s first Young Adult offering and while it doesn’t match the level of elegance, intelligence, inventiveness, and beauty of her adult novels, it’s better than most of what’s available on the YA shelves.
Jesse Drake is a high school student who stands out only because of the fractal-like art she produces. Her art is inspired by her dreams in which she visits other worlds. Nobody knows this except her little brother Tommy who sometimes uses Jesse’s dreams as inspiration for his gaming. Neither Jesse nor Tommy are aware that her dreams may have some earth-shattering significance until her estranged father asks for a paternity test and Jesse notices that someone is stalking her. She’s alarmed, of course, and when she begins to investigate she discovers that there are other strange kids like her who’ve been chatting together on the internet. When her house catches fire and Tommy is kidnapped, Jesse and a couple of her new friends have to enter a frightening and dangerous parallel universe to get him back. There they begin (only begin) to discover who Jesse really is and why she and her art might be important to the multiverse.
Dreamwalker had me intrigued from the very first page. Jesse’s a likeable and admirable heroine who’s refreshingly mature. Her family situation isn’t easy, but Jesse notices and cares about the burdens her single mom carries and she helps out where she can. She doesn’t have the luxury of time to be obsessed with boys or fashion and she knows how to interact with adults. She’s devastated by the news that she’s not actually genetically related to her family. I felt her pain and wanted to know where she came from. There were a couple times when I thought Jesse made stupid mistakes — usually when she didn’t tell adults what was going on. This is so common in YA fiction. After all, if the adults knew the kids were about to launch themselves into a parallel universe, they’d do something to stop them, wouldn’t they? Still, I’d rather the heroine be smart enough to ask for help when it’s needed.
Compared to her books for adults, Friedman’s writing seems a little dumbed down in Dreamwalker. It is not as elegant and nuanced as I’ve come to expect. There were times when, just for the benefit of the reader, characters would explain things to other characters who already knew the information. Jesse learns crucial secret information by eavesdropping on conversations that shouldn’t be taking place out in the open. These information gathering techniques are a little sloppier than I expect from Friedman. Similarly, Friedman’s parallel universe was fascinating, but not entirely convincing. It’s very different from ours in some fundamental ways, yet the kids in that world speak the same English that today’s American teenagers do.
These little issues are unlikely to matter much for most readers. I’m merely pointing out a few ways Friedman’s YA differs from her adult fiction. Again, Dreamwalker is better than most of the YA that’s currently on the shelves, but I’d like to think that young adults could handle the “smarter” Friedman. It’s obvious that Dreamwalker is the start of a series — the ending leaves Jesse much to learn and accomplish — so I’m hoping that we’ll see this series evolve into something that better showcases C.S. Friedman’s usual brilliance.
I listened to the audio version which was produced by Brilliance Audio and read by actress Eevin Hartsough. This is her first audiobook! I loved her voice and enjoyed her performance. I hope she’ll be doing more audio!
A note about the books’ cover: When Dreamwalker arrived in the mail, I looked at the cover and assume that Jesse was not Caucasian. I thought that was kind of cool — finally a little diversity in YA heroines. Nope. Jesse’s Caucasian. How disappointing. However, one of the boys she travels with, and who’s a potential love interest, is African-American, so at least there’s a bit of diversity in the cast.