The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

Now that the weather is getting cooler and the pumpkins are out, I was in the mood for reading a thrillerbut let’s face it I’m an absolute wimp when it comes to that genre.

Enter The Dreamers, a new page-turner that I can’t stop thinking about.

Quick Summary:

In a small college town in southern California, a student falls asleep after a night out but doesn’t wake up. The doctors find she is overall healthy, but has simply succumbed to a mysterious, perpetual slumber, complete with intense dreams. Soon more students fall ill as the contagion spreads through the homes and lives within this isolated town. As the characters fight off the seemingly inevitable, they wrestle with their own mixing of dreams, desires, values, and sense of reality.

The Dreamers is Walker’s second novel, after Age of Miracles (which I’ve now added to my “To Read” list). It comes out on January 15, 2019 at Random House and is currently available for pre-order.

What I loved:

This is a perfect mental thriller for those that love suspense but have a weak stomach (like me). The story of a town succumbing to a spreading virus is familiar, but the symptoms of the sleeping seem so benign and quietwhich only add to the resulting creepiness. As the characters ward off the disease which each passing night, they only get more exhausted and paranoid. This has infected my daily life; I’ve had brief moments where I’ve thought, “I shouldn’t be so careless, I might get sick” and then remembered that I am not living in the novel.

As a former editor, Walker has a steady hand at building a narrative. The novel paces with digestible chapters and heartbreaking twists. (I actually gasped out loud at one point, and that’s a rarity for me). I especially loved the intermittent chapters where Walker steps back from these intertwining threads to take a look at the evolving big picture, whether focusing on the local lake, the outside news coverage, or the known science behind dreams. They help with the pacing of the book and the passing of time, but also give the reader a much needed second of breathing room.

There is an incredibly diverse cast of charactersfrom a group of college freshmen, a pair of elementary school girls with a paranoid father, a biology professor and his husband, parents of a newborn couple, a family who had fled Egypt for their safety, to name a few. This level of diversity in characterization is something I look for in fiction and Walker exceeded my expectations.

My biggest takeaway after reading it was “wow, this is why women authors are great!” Although all her characters were distinctly different from each other whether in their lifestyle or motivations, her grasp on the female perspective comes through with each of of them. Although the characters are actively dealing with a nightmare scenario (literally, because dreams . . . get it?) Walker still gets into the head of a college freshman who has been struggling to fit in, or writes about how a young girl not only develops survival skills for her own protection but also when she gets her first period.

Also, Walker decided to include a story-line about a newborn after 11 days of birthing her own. You can see her that wonder she took from real life transcribed into her attention to detail and imprinted on moments of this novel.

Lingering concerns:

  • The only character that fell short for me was Catherine, a psychologist who starts working with the patients early on in the novel. At her first entrance, I had the impression her role would be instrumental to the plot, but she turned out to be the weakest character in the novel. Whereas all the other characters are intensely painted with their moral dilemmas and struggling with the consequences of their actions, Catherine comes off as vague, oddly flawless, and a victim of circumstance, which made her otherwise forgettable.
  • Every once in while, a line that was clearly meant to build the suspense fell flat, usually in cases where it was a repetition from an earlier chapter that didn’t change anything in the plot. It could’ve used approximately 2% more editingbut that’s just me being picky.
  • Least importantly, why are all the latex gloves green? Is that normal? Is it a new California trend?

My Short Review:

Overall rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5 stars)

A stunning page-turner that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s a great mix of thought-provoking prose, heart-breaking twists, and well-paced suspense. As the diverse cast of characters fight off the seemingly inevitable, they wrestle with their own mixing of dreams, desires, values, and sense of reality.

Add this book to your shelf on Goodreads!

Thank you NetGalley and Random House for my free advance copy in exchange for my honest review! The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker will be out on Jan. 15, 2019 with Random House.