Review by Shalon Sims
Sourcebooks Fire, January 7, 2020
416 pages, hardcover, $17.99 USD, 978-1-492-68266-0
Ages 14+, Grades 9-12
Young Adult, Fantasy
[Kane] thought of the gloomy, covert life so many queer people were forced to live as they found one another in a time and a world that could not adjust to them. He thought of the secret meetings and secret names, and the secret sadness that grew like mold in the humidity of a life kept closed.
This reverie was not just dreams and whimsy, like Kane had thought. It was a person’s psychology, rendered in vivid fantasy. They had waltzed in the ballroom of an old woman’s loss and wandered the corridors of her grief. This party was her pain, this garden her purgatory, and they were playing dress up in it. Meddling like it was a game.
What do you do when you have amnesia and your psychiatrist is an extravagant drag queen who’s overly eager to retrieve your memories? And what about these people who claim to be your friends, but then trap you in a hellish waking nightmare filled with giant bejewelled beetles and sorcerers who can swallow you up in their teacup? And what if you feel like you’re a vanilla, small town gay teen, but really you’re an ass-kicking superhero?
That’s Kane, and that gives you a taste of the absurd deliciousness of Reverie, a book that just doesn’t make sense—in a good way. It’s fraught with storytelling faux pas: dreams for one, which are a no-no in fiction, and a reluctant protagonist who has no idea what’s happening, also a big no-no. And yet, it all unfurls and marches forward to a perfect tempo, balancing fantastically written action with thoughtful character development. Part mystery, part action-thriller, and part teenage drama, Reverie captivated me on every level.
Kane wakes from a car crash unable to remember what happened, and slowly finds out he’s the centre of a terrifying phenomenon, a collective waking dream state called The Reverie. As he slowly learns more about what happened to him before the car crash, he doesn’t know who to trust, least of all himself. Eventually, his sister gets caught up in the turmoil, and Kane must embrace his ability to unravel the dream if he wants to save her.
What I loved about this novel is the exploration of how our wounds are often our greatest powers. That’s not a new trope in YA fiction, but one to which I felt La Sala added something fresh. Kane’s power to unravel the collective dreams comes from his trauma growing up as a gay kid in small town East Amity. He’s a master of escaping reality with fantasy, something I think a lot of us can relate to.
Now, to be fair, this book is not for everyone. The reveries are complex and can be confusing, requiring the reader to be flexible and roll with the punches. The language is luscious, and by some accounts, might be on the violet side, but I’m the first to shy away from purple prose. In this case, I felt the language suited the character, and wasn’t just for the sake of the author’s pomp.
Furthermore, the book bends the reader’s suspension of disbelief with the absurd creeping into the real-world setting, somewhat like Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore or Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation. However, there is enough humour in this book to throw a few belly laughs and spoiler alert—a happy ending. Despite, what some might think are downsides, I proudly give Reverie a place on my bookshelf.
Shalon Sims is a writer and teacher candidate at UBC. She writes middle grade and young adult science fiction, and hopes to work with those same ages when she becomes a teacher. Visit her at shalonsims.com and learning2grow.org.