Book Review: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

Image credit: Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

The Dreamers is story that intrigued me from the beginning. A virus spreads through a small town in California where people go to sleep, and don’t wake up. They are still alive, but only survive with medical intervention such as IV fluids and feeding tubes. The novel opens up in a college dorm room, where patient zero stumbles into her dorm room after a night out, and doesn’t wake up again in the morning. I am a big fan of post-apocalyptic novels, and this one was right up my alley. It is fascinating to wonder what people would do if their world suddenly turned upside down and became a dangerous place. 

The key theme in this novel was not survival. There really was no way to survive the virus or protect yourself against it. The key theme is humanity. How do people deal with a crisis? Some people in the book hide themselves away, some people help others. Another key theme is dreams. People who had the sickness dreamed, and people who were not sick dreamed. Some people dreamed of their future, some of the past, and some felt like they lived another life in their dreams, when in reality it had only been a few days. The author’s writing about their dreams is beautiful and one of my favorite lines of the book was towards the end, when discussing how the differences in people’s dreams were “as if each dream contained its own unique physics.”

My favorite character in the novel was Mei. The author accurately captured the awkwardness and vulnerability of being a college freshman and not quite fitting into dorm life. I felt sorry for her and wanted to be her friend, all at the same time. It would have been interesting for the entire book to be told from Mei’s point of view. 

One part of the novel I found challenging was the short chapters. They made it easy and quick to read the novel. However, it was especially confusing in the beginning, with each chapter shifting back and forth between different characters, frequently. It wasn’t until halfway through the novel that the main characters were apparent, and more character development took place. 

The book ended with many of my questions still unanswered. The author gives multiple possibilities and reasons for the dreams; why some people woke up and some didn’t. It’s left up to interpretation by the reader. The novel felt too short to me. I enjoyed reading it and wished it was a bit longer. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes post-apocalyptic fiction and general fiction. It was an excellent story full of how good humanity can be in a crisis. I would definitely not recommend this book to anyone with severe germaphobia. It’s stories like these that remind us how vulnerable our bodies are to sickness and disease. It’s impossible not to compare the Santa Lora Virus to viruses like the flu, ebola, measles, whopping cough, etc. It’s a little too real, and feels like it could happen in the real world. 

I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House for an advanced copy of the e-book in exchange for an honest review. This book is available today, January 15!!! Get your copy on Amazon (click on the image below):