Review written by Jonathan Lavallee.
I will admit that I judged a book by its cover. Dream Girl has this kind of over flowery, white dress, far away look vibe happening on the cover. I thought I was going to hate it. When my tween daughter suggested that we pick it up because it was in the bargain bin at the local Chapters, I was almost certain it was going to be awful. Thankfully we read it, and it turned out to be far different than I thought.
Claire Voyante—yes, that’s her real name and the ridiculousness of it is addressed quickly within the novel—is a young girl who is experiencing a huge upheaval in her life. She’s going from one school, an alternative farm-like school, to a new public school that seems to be focused solely on the academic achievement of its students. She has to make friends and deal with the fact that her previous best friend who hates her goes to the same school. On top of that, she’s having weird odd dreams that seem to be trying to tell her something.
The story deals with all of that, but at its heart it is a kind of magical mystery story. Claire makes friends with Becca Shuttleworth, of the Shuttleworth Ketchup company fame, and gets drawn into trying to figure out who would want to hurt her friend and her friend’s family. She learns all sorts of secrets from her “close to her, but still distant from her” parents, and her grandmother she calls Kiki helps her try to learn about the magic in her dreams and how she can use them to help her friend.
All this happens in the backdrop of high school, as Claire tries to deal with her new friendship with Becca, her crush on Becca’s older brother, the attacks from her ex-friend Sheila, and her relationship with her family. It’s a lot more interesting and complex then I thought it would ever be, and it’s written in a style that’s easy to read without being overly simplistic. At times events that happen in the mystery side of the story can seem a little too convenient, but she is a clairvoyant so I guess there’s a reason for that to happen. There are also moments where the story could probably spend a little more time one part or the other, but the characters are really enjoyable so those moments are few and far between.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
The vast majority of the school drama comes because of bullying. Claire tries to reconnect with Sheila and Sheila’s new friends, but finds out that they’re a group of high school bullies, in the Mean Girls vein. They’re catty, are insincere, and play practical jokes on anyone they think are lesser than they are, and that encompasses pretty much the whole school. Because Claire stands up to Sheila she becomes the target of a lot of the BDLs (what Sheila calls her clique). Facts and embarrassing pictures about Claire get spread around the school.
Every family is dysfunctional in their own special way. Claire’s family is the brilliant but completely discombobulated academic family. They’re very nice parents, but they’re a little caught up in what they do. When the mom has to go away for a job, Claire is shouldered with the responsibility of trying to do all the “mom” things around the house.
Claire loves both her parents and her grandmother, but there’s a very large estrangement between Claire’s mother and Kiki, the grandmother. This leads to a lot of awkward moments at family gatherings, and puts Claire right in the middle of that relationship playing go-between or even a distraction to quickly change topics as needed.
Sheila’s mother lives in a constant state of denial, hoping that her daughter will be friends again with Claire.
Becca’s family has a lot of money, but they’re feuding with a different family that has caused them grief over the years. There’s a high level of uncertainty and fear in their family, to the point where even Claire has a background check done on her to make sure that there isn’t anything that could be threatening to the family.
Claire has a huge crush on Becca’s brother Andy. The problem is that Andy currently has a girlfriend, and while it’s clear that she’s one of the antagonists of the book there are a couple of scenes were Andy and Claire almost make out.
One of the issues that Claire has with her parents is that they’re very quick to bring in a “doctor’s opinion.” When she complains about being tired, because of her prophetic dreams, they immediately whisk her away and get the doctor to prescribe a bunch of sleeping medication which has some severe effects that Claire has to deal with while she’s taking them.
This is a great book for someone getting interested in mystery, but who also likes a dash of social drama and a hint of romance. There isn’t anything particularly troubling about this book, even the dreams which could be ready fodder for nightmare fuel are more confusing and prophetic rather than scary and terrifying. Younger tweens might get a little bored and annoyed by the romance part of it, but your budding tweens might get a kick out of it and again it’s not over the top when it comes to feelings. A surprisingly good read, probably for 10 and up.