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):

Bookish Fangirl

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#1 Fangirl

Several years ago, I was fortunate to receive an email advertising the author of The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, coming to a local high school that day to do a talk/book signing. I immediately called my mom and told her to cancel any plans she had that evening, because we were going to meet the author of one of our favorite books! It was an evening I’ll never forget. We listened to this incredible man talk about his inspiration for the book, and stories of him growing up in Australia. He was funny, and his stories were entertaining and laugh out loud hilarious! His Australian accent just added to the entertainment, and I was enthralled and inspired by his genius. He told a memorable story about pranking his brother by switching out the boiled egg he ate for lunch everyday for a raw egg, causing his brother to break a raw egg on his own face. Zusak was making a point in that telling a good story, you need the key elements of humor, detail, and suspense to keep the readers engaged. He set the bar high for author talks, and I was slightly disappointed when I met other authors after him, as they weren’t as entertaining or gregarious. That evening we waited in line for over an hour for Zusak to sign our books, and the personalized, signed edition of The Book Thief is still one of the most treasured books on my bookshelf.

Fast forward to a week ago, when I was browsing Facebook (actively procrastinating from doing actual work), and saw the magic words, “Markus Zusak in Kissimmee.” I could not contain my joy when I realized I could easily drive there and back in an evening. I had heard he had a new book out called Bridge of Clay, and of course was excited to read it. I read some recent interviews with him and found out it took him 13 years to finish this book. As I am currently struggling through the 6th year of my never-ending PhD journey, I felt I could relate to Zusak’s struggle to write. He might be able to teach me a thing or two about work perseverance.

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Proof of the fb conversation.

Before attending the event, I wanted to make sure it was more than just a book signing. Remembering how entertaining his talk was, I was only going to the event if he was also going to speak to the entire group and not just sign books. So, I decided to post a message on the facebook event page asking, “Will Mr. Zusak be speaking at the event or is this only a signing?” I waited patiently for an answer from the event’s sponsor, Books-A-Million. A day or so later, I saw they had replied, and clicked on it. It was Markus Zusak himself who replied with a humble, ” Hi Danielle – I will be speaking and then signing. Hope you can make it.” EEEEKKKK! Fangirl freakout! I definitely HAD to go to the event now, and was even more excited. I couldn’t disappoint my favorite author.

Super nervous to meet him again, I walked into the Books-A-Million and saw a small group gathered at the back of the store. I was surprised at the small crowd, since the last author event I attended for Zusak was a large room of over 100 people. Didn’t people know this was THE Markus Zusak, genius of the written word, who wrote an entire book narrated by death?? A small, humble crowd of about 20 people had gathered. These were the most devoted fans in Central Florida, I was sure of it. My electronic ticket was scanned, I was handed a book, and as I turned to the first page, I was so excited I couldn’t even read the words on the page. The girl sitting next to me had also traveled 1.5 hours to see him in person, and was equally starstruck/mesmerized.

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One of the best public speakers ever. If you get the chance, go see him in person. Amazing!

Zusak was just hanging around the bookstore talking to people before the event started. He was casually introduced and stood in front of the table, not wanting to use the microphone. Immediately, he was telling jokes and putting the audience at ease. He told various stories about how small details from his life made it into his latest book. One story was about how his mother dropped a basket of colorful clothing line pins on the ground one day after his siblings had played another raucous game of tennis in the backyard. He spoke about how he became a father after he wrote The Book Thief, and how that changed his writing. He said it took him this long to write Bridge of Clay because it took him that long to get the story and writing perfect, exactly how he wanted it. He gave up on the story twice, missed deadlines with his publisher, and changed narrators multiple times. You could tell he worked hard on this book and was proud of his work. He is an author that clearly values quality over quantity.

He spoke for 45 minutes, which was too short for me. If he did a podcast, I would listen to it everyday just for his storytelling and fun accent. Because the audience was so small, I only needed to wait in line for 15 minutes for him to sign my new copy of Bridge of Clay and pose for a photo. There was a guy in the audience who had a tattoo inspired from Zusak’s first book, I Am The Messenger, an intricate design of a deck of cards. There was a girl sitting in front of me with a well-loved copy of The Book Thief full of colorful, neon post-it notes. Turns out she wrote her thesis on the book, and knew it inside and out. See, I told you. His biggest fans were assembled in that Books-A-Million that day.

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Even Ella is excited to read Zusak’s latest book! Or more realistically… she will sleep while I read.

I left the event feeling inspired. Inspired to persevere and finally finish my PhD after dragging my feet for months. I felt inspired to write a book someday that would be meaningful to people. It was another evening I’ll never forget. I will read Bridge of Clay soon, and absorb every detail of Zusak’s writing. No doubt it will be another treasured book on my bookshelf.




Find Markus Zusak’s books on Amazon: