Last night I sat up until 2:00 am reading Wake and Fade, by Lisa McMann. The first book, Wake is about 17-year-old Janie, a girl with problems. Her mother is a hopeless alcoholic. She lives on the wrong side of the tracks, and has to work hard just to feed and clothe herself. Her dreams of college seem remote, no matter how hard she works. And yet. These things pale in comparison to Janie's real problem. For reasons that she doesn't understand, whenever Janie is in the presence of someone else who is dreaming, Janie gets sucked into the dream. She goes into a seizure-like state, and can't pull herself back out until the dream ends. It's been happening since she was eight, and the older she gets, the harder it is to hide. Then things get really weird when she finds someone who might be dangerous, and who is dreaming about her.
Wake is written in an unusual style, third person present tense (though mainly from Janie's viewpoint), with short sentences, and occasional sentence fragments. All of the chapter sections are headed with the date and time, so that the present tense is intelligible. The sections are short, and the book is a very quick read, with plenty of white space. It's like a running commentary by someone seeing herself from a slight distance, speaking with disjointed thoughts. I found this writing style surprisingly engaging. It amplified Janie's situation and personality, while giving the reader enough distance to want to watch over her. Here's an example, after Janie has slipped into a friend's dream during a sleepover:
"Janie goes home, falls into bed, thinking about the strange night. Wondering if this ever happens to anyone else. Knowing, deep down, it probably doesn't.
She falls into a hard sleep until late afternoon. Decides sleepovers are not for her.
They'll never be for her." (Page 20, ARC)
I liked Janie a lot. I respected how hard she worked to pull herself out of her wretched family situation. I wanted to shake her oblivious mother. I sighed with relief when someone helped her. I read at rapid pace, mostly because I wanted to know whether or not Janie was going to be ok.
Although Wake sounds like a light, premise driven book (girl gets sucked into other people's dreams - chaos ensues!), and it is both suspenseful and intriguing, I leaped from the first book to the second because of the characters. Well, mostly because of Janie, but there's a damaged boy who is intriguing, too. Wake read for me like a cross between Meg Cabot's supernatural 1-800-Where-R-You series (teen girl dreams about where missing people are located) and YA problem novels like Nancy Werlin's Rules of Survival (teen boy matures despite super-toxic parent). There are as many small details about Janie's mother's drinking and their grinding poverty as there are about the effects of the dreams. I found the mix compelling.
Fade (the second book in the series, due out in February of 2009) is a bit more plot-driven than Wake. Janie works undercover to use her dream-walking skills to help track down a potential pedophile on her school's faculty. She also learns more about her abilities, their consequences, and their impact on the people around her. Even as she's learning to control her dream visits a bit, Janie is also more vulnerable in Fade, physically drained by the dreams. Lisa McMann walks a fine line, I think, in making the reader worry about Janie's physical condition, without making her seem like a helpless victim.
I found Fade to be a creepier, more emotionally difficult book than Wake. I found the whole storyline about a high school teacher preying on female students disturbing (and hopefully unrealistic). But I enjoyed learning, with Janie, more about her talent / curse. The writing style that I talked about earlier (short sentences, fragments, hyper-present tense) is, if anything, more pronounced in this second book, as though the author is hitting her stride with it. For example:
"Janie sprints through the snowy yards from two streets away and slips quietly through the front door of her house.
Everything goes black.
She grips her head, cursing her mother under her breath as the whirling kaleidoscope of colors builds and throws her off balance." (Page 11, ARC)
Or, on a lighter note:
"She rolls over. Sees the plate of eggs and toast, steam rising. Grins wide as the ocean and lunges for it." (Page 14, ARC)
Fade is a bit more mature than Wake, in terms of sexual content (direct, though not graphic, and doubtless realistic given Janie's wholly unsupervised situation). I think that both Wake and Fade fall towards the upper end of the young adult age range, because of the content and because of the level of maturity of the main characters.
I recommend this series for fans of chilling supernatural stories (teens who read Mary Downing Hahn as kids, and adults who couldn't get enough Lois Duncan as teens). Even those who aren't intrigued by the idea of dream-walking but enjoy tales of kids-from-tough-circumstances-who-make-good may also enjoy Wake and Fade. Personally, I'm already looking forward to the next book (Gone, according to a mention on the author's Amazon blog).
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: March 4, 2008 (Wake), February 10, 2009 (Fade)
Source of Books: Advance review copies from the publisher (quotes are from the advance copies, and may not reflect the final printed books)
Other Blog Reviews: Today, I Read..., Turning the Paige, Glenview Book Blogger
Author Interviews: ReviewerX, Book Junkie
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.