“A fantastical tale with a powerful message” raves SPR.
12-year-old Jake has been suppressing his heartbreak over the loss of his mother for the past four years. But his emotions have a way of haunting his dreams and bubbling to the surface when he least expects it. When Jake learns how to take control in his dreams, he becomes a lucid dreamer, and that’s when the battle really heats up.
Using his wits to dodge bullies by day and a nefarious kangaroo hopping ever closer by night, Jake learns about loss, bravery, the power of love, and how you cannot fully heal until you face your greatest fear. This uncompromising novel is a magical yet honest exploration of emotional healing after a devastating loss.(less)
ARC from author in exchange for an honest review
Reviewed By Syd Jack
Life isn’t easy for Jake – his mother died four years earlier. In addition, he’s stuck 5 days a week in the deadly arena that is middle school, finding himself near the bottom of the vicious food chain and even figuring he’s got nothing to lose in befriending Will, the strange new kid from California. When Jake gains the ability to (somewhat) control his dreams, he’s finally found a sort of refuge from everyday life – but that refuge is constantly invaded by a domineering kangaroo and thoughts of a foreboding basement that’s haunted his dreams before, guarded by giant, menacing turtles, where he’s sure his mother awaits. Meanwhile, he spends his waking hours trying to avoid Nick, his former-best-friend-turned-enemy, and Brandon, the biggest kid in the seventh grade who’s got it in for Jake. Every night, his dreams get more and more heated. However, Jake’s worst enemy might not be who he thinks it is …
This book struck an excellent balance: it’s a laugh-cry sort of book. Also, it combines magical realism with reality. Will’s character was very funny to me because I’m a Californian and know exactly zero “surfer dudes”. Some parts were a bit confusing, but that’s to be expected from a book that spends so much time in a dream world. Ever had a dream where everything makes perfect sense? I know I haven’t. It’s also sort of a bummer that we never get to see how things turn out at school for Jake at the end, but I guess that’s really not the point of the book. Lucid dreaming, for those of you who don’t know, is being aware that you’re dreaming, and therefore being able to control the dream. I’ve been trying to have a lucid dream for maybe a month now, and I think that’s actually part of the reason why I decided to review this book.
I know this seems typical, since you’re usually kind of supposed to like the protagonist best, but I was drawn to Jake’s character most. He seemed the most conflicted, even though we get glimpses into the other characters’ problems. Naturally, he didn’t always do the right thing (and when he did, it wasn’t always for the right reason), but that’s what made him interesting. People don’t usually want to read about the one-dimensional hero who never messes up – it’s pretty much impossible to identify with that kind of character. The way things from Jake’s real life played into his dreams was entertaining and seemed to make sense: after all, dreams are mostly made up of what you do and what you think about in your waking hours. I’d recommend it for ages 12-14, although it depends on the kid. The book comes out the beginning of May. I was even able to interview the author by email. (Interview is under “About Author”)
Parental Advisory: bullying, romance, swearing, violence, death/dealing with loss
Q&A With David J. Naiman
What inspired you to write this book?
Growing up as a child who experienced the death of a parent at a young age, I had a hard time reading books that veered into sad subjects. That’s a shame because reading is a great way to develop a deeper understanding of yourself and others, something we all need to heal from whatever ails us. My ambition was to write a book that the younger me would have both enjoyed and been willing to read. Merging the surreal with stark reality is something I’ve always found appealing. Once I thought of using lucid dreams as a way to force Jake to come to grips with suppressed emotions, the book came together. I often stopped writing for weeks at a time because many of the scenes were so raw, but the book always drew me back. Eventually, I couldn’t not write it.
I know that you’ve published one book in the past that was fictional medical humor for adults. What inspired you to transition into middle-grade/young adult?
I focus on the story I want to tell and worry about genres later. One of the benefits of being an indie writer is that I only have to answer to myself. While Didn’t Get Frazzled has plenty of humor, I still address many serious issues that medical students face in the course of their transition to doctors. On the surface, my two books couldn’t be more different, but on a deeper level they are both coming of age novels with protagonists who are forced to evolve under trying circumstances.
Are you a lucid dreamer?
I first experienced lucid dreaming as a teenager in college. Like most first-time lucid dreamers who had never even heard of lucid dreaming, I was not entirely sure I hadn’t lost my mind. Nevertheless, I knew I liked it so I kept it up until my dream turned on me, not dissimilar to what Jake experiences in the book. That was the end of active lucid dreaming for me. Nowadays, I often realize that I’m dreaming during the dream, and if the dream becomes stressful, I will wake myself up, but otherwise I don’t try to change anything. I made Jake a more advanced lucid dreamer than I ever was for purposes of story progression. And also, because it’s way cooler.
What were some of your favorite books as a kid?
I remember as a child reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and being absolutely stunned. But not by the chocolate river or even the Oompa Loompas. No, what astonished me was the simple fact that when bad things happened, they were permanent. Other books I had read assumed children needed to be coddled, reassured, or, as I viewed it, lied to. If something was wrong, don’t worry! You could be certain it would be rectified and everything would be A-Okay in the end. That was not my experience with real life as a child. I couldn’t relate to those books. Reading Roald Dahl was a revelation, recognition that while terrible, irreversible things happen, you can still make the best of it. I wrote my book with this concept in mind.
Is there any advice you might have for any aspiring authors out there?
Keep writing, anything, everything, whatever inspires you, whatever catches your fancy, whatever keeps your creative juices flowing, whatever keeps you up nights, whatever the genre, whatever anyone else might think. If you do this, you can be sure to find your own voice and make your distinctive mark on the world of literature. On the other hand, if you want to make money as a writer, this is terrible advice, but that’s what you get for asking me.
What inspired you to write in general?
I used to say because it’s cheaper than therapy but I no longer think that’s true. Well, it never really was true, but now I’ve learned that it’s not literally true either.
Do you have any plans for future middle-grade novels?
I think I’ve got at least one more in me. I’m working on a novel that applies magical realism to sibling rivalry in a way that ups the stakes in unexpected ways. Stay tuned!