Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Strange, sleepy Rogerson, with his long brown dreads and brilliant green eyes, had seemed to Caitlin to be an open door. With him she could be anybody, not just the second-rate shadow of her older sister, Cass. But now she is drowning in the vacuum Cass left behind when she turned her back on her family's expectations by running off with a boyfriend. Caitlin wanders in a dream land of drugs and a nightmare of Rogerson's sudden fists, lost in her search for herself.
Why do so many girls allow themselves to get into abusive relationships--and what keeps them there? In this riveting novel, Sarah Dessen searches for understanding and answers. Caught in a trap that is baited with love and need, Caitlin must frantically manage her every action to avoid being hit by the hands that once seemed so gentle. All around her are women who care--best friends, mother, sister, mentor--but shame keeps her from confiding in any of them, especially Cass, her brilliant older sister, whose own flight from home had seemed to point the way.
Dessen has here created a subtle and compelling work of literature that goes far beyond the teen problem novel in a story rich with symbolism, dark scenes of paralyzing dread, quirky and memorable characters, and gleams of humor. With the consummate skill and psychological depth that brought her praise for Keeping the Moon, she explores the search for self-identity, the warmth of feminine friendships, and the destructive ways our society sets up young women for love gone wrong. (Ages 14 and older) --Patty Campbell
My take: Dessen has a talent for disclosing a story and the progression of a situation in a way that the reader reserves judgment. How easy it is to see that a girl is suffering in an abusive relationship and pass judgment regarding how she needs to kick his butt to the curb. Dessen uses her gift for personalizing her protagonists by giving background information on Caitlyn; her relationship with her parents, her sister, her vulnerability, the new love interest, how harmless he is, the way Caitlyn accepts Rogerson's own victimhood - all of this leads up to the first time Rogerson hits Caitlyn. It doesn't just "happen." Caitlyn hangs out with Rogerson and is introduced more and more into his dark world of drugs, finally smoking a little weed here and there, watching Rogerson take his hits by his dad, Rogerson's wandering hands, until we're at the moment that Caitlyn is lying in the grass, bruised from head to toe, taking it.
And then the healing.
It's a heavy book for being so short. I loved it.