Monday, 25 April 2016

Young Adult debut "Jarred Dreams" by Camilla Chester


 Jarred Dreams
The book opens with the chilling description of the Dream Thief. A creature with sickly yellow skin; deep set, hooded black eyes, a large hooked nose, a pointed chin, enlarged ears, gnarled feet and a melted skull. A hideous creature who prowls the streets of Stanbridge every night to "free the people from the torment of their dreams", to make them forget, to rob them of their joy and hope, to drain the world of colour. "To rid the world of dreams is his cause and there is nobody who has the power to stop him." He focusses into the tune of the dream, it will "beckon him to where a child must be having a vivid dream" and he'll catch it "before it changes to something mundane....he can enter at the tip of something and feel the energy of the child switch to one of fear." He stores the dreams in jars deep in his cellar. He fills the world with grey nothingness and mediocrity.

Twelve year old Sade arrives in Stanbridge with her father as it is near to the hospital where her mother lies in a coma, "sleeping". They visit her daily. Sade is brave, courageous, unafraid of anything. Immediately she is struck by the eeriness of the place; of the expressionless people that live here and don't engage. Something strange is going on and she refuses to become part of it. She wants to find out why the people and children are so odd, so forgetful, so subdued, so colourless and change it before both herself and her father end up succumbing to the same fate. Can she prevent the Dream Thief from his destructive agenda before he takes everything away from her?

This is a really unusual book which is a real fuse of several different genres. It is part ghost story, part thriller and mystery story, part supernatural and part magical. It has hints of dystopian novels and at times reminded me of Voldemort and his Death Eaters, Philip Pullman's "Northern Lights" trilogy, Frances Hardinge's novels, and possibly something more ancient like "Paradise Lost".

Although the opening sounds quite frightening, it is more ethereal than that and the Dream Thief's chapters are shorter so they do not become overwhelming. His chapters are alternated with those following Sade's narrative which is modern, contemporary and suitably contrasting. The Dream Thief's passages are aptly dreamlike and bewitching; a malevolent voice and ghostly predator. He is a menacing presence but only as unsettling as many other "dark forces" existing in current Young Adult fiction and Chester writes his voice in a more lyrical and surreal style which ensures it doesn't become too dark. Alternating the two voices also gives Chester a real opportunity to show her ability to create different voices and construct a more complex story structure which will pull the reader in and sweep them up in the journey alongside Sade.

Sade could be likened to other contemporary strong female protagonists like Catniss from "The Hunger Games". She shows a resilience and determination from the outset. She wants to go home to her old life, "one with colour and smiles and noises......she will make it happen." She meets Seb who is also able to see that something very strange is occurring in their town and is willing to help her solve the mystery. During an art lesson, they learn more of the town's history from Maggie Farrant, their art teacher, and with her information they begin their quest to seek out the Dream Thief.

Sade is a character full of hope and goodness. She herself is struggling to come to terms with her own grief and unhappiness but she is constantly described with colour and brightness. The Dream Thief identifies her as the "golden girl of light" who "emits such brightness and flair" when she's awake that he can't imagine the "vibrancy of her dreams". She is a girl who seeks out adventure and challenge. The Dream Thief is determined to capture her dreams. She is a real threat to him. He talks about her moving as if she is gliding and repeatedly comments on her dazzling, blonde hair which "bounces around her like a golden light...like a halo." Sade almost becomes something much more metaphorical. It feels as if there is something more saviour like and celestial about her and therefore there is a great sense of anticipation.

I enjoyed Chester's use of colour and her contrasting imagery between grey and brightness which was also echoed in more subtle references to winter and summer, death and rebirth. This book embraces lots of interesting themes like art, self expression, dreams, memories, hope and grief. On a deeper level, older readers might pick up on ideas about renewal, redemption and restoration. There are some interesting suggestions about the role of the subconscious and the way our mind reveals things to us.

It is ambitious for a debut novel to tackle such concepts but Chester does so effectively and actually the novel has a very positive and uplifting finale. Sade's energy and her strong belief in the "colour" of life ensures her spirit cannot be beaten and this is the final message of the book. Where the adults have failed, Sade triumphs and everyone can once again not only dream but also live in a world which is a kaleidoscope of colour. I would suggest this book is suitable for ages 10 upwards.

My thanks to Camilla Chester who gave me a copy of her paperback in return for a fair review.

You can find out more about Camilla at www.camillachester.com and her second book is due out shortly. Interestingly it sounds like something completely different from "Jarred Dreams" and is called "EATS". It is about two boys who win a competition to cook with celebrity chefs where everything comes to a boil- but can they stir up trouble to serve the just desserts in time?

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