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The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst
Cover Artist: Andrea Femerstrand
Review by Paul Haggerty
Clarion Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780544464971
Date: 03 November 2015 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Sophie lives a dream life. Quite literally. Hidden beneath her family's bookstore is a second, secret store. A dream store, where the people's dreams are collected, distilled, packaged, and sold, like any other commodity. For Sophie, the shop is a fabulous, magical, if not strictly legal, wonderland. Given that Sophie has never had a dream of her own, she does pine after an experience that others take for granted. But while pleasant dreams sell well in the hidden world of the dream trade, nightmares also have a extra-special niche. A niche that most people would prefer remain in the safety of dreams. But nightmares, by definition, are never safe, they don't exist solely in dreams, and one can never tell what forms they're going to take.

Sophie has only had one dream in her life, and that one she stole from a shelf in her parent's shop. Being young, she reasoned that they would never miss it and that nothing could possibly go wrong. Naturally, that dream would change her world. She found herself in a nightmare, specifically a "monster in the closet" nightmare. With a fiendish cat-like monster with enough fangs and claws and tentacles to make any dreamer cringe in horror and scream their throats raw. Instead Sophie invited Monster onto the bed, scritched him behind the ears, and made a new friend. And to the astonishment of her parents, Monster remained in her arms even after she woke up. While the very existence of dream shops may be questionable, what would the authorities think of having a child that can bring change the very essence of dreams and bring them to life? That is something to make any parent paranoid.

Now as a newly turned twelve-year-old, Sophie is quite content with life (except for the no dreaming bit). She goes to school and keeps to herself, unwilling to mingle with normal people, who she doesn't see how she has anything in common. Except for the couple of students she's mining dreams from. Once home, she helps around the shop, under strict supervision. And, in Monster, she has the staunchest and most loyal of friends. But, in the background, there is one rule that she must always obey. She and Monster are not to be seen by the dream store's clients. The risk of the authorities getting involved is just too high a risk. But like any rule that must never be broken, eventually it will be, if only by accident or even just a tiny lapse in attention. And ever since the morning that Mr. Nightmare, as the client calls himself, met Sophie, her life has gone from routine to terrifying.

First children begin to vanish. The same children Sophie has been giving dream catchers to in order to harvest their nightmares. Then Mr. Nightmare returns, acting friendly, but even that Sophie finds creepy. Then her parents vanish, along with the machinery that allows them to distill dreams.

This is no ordinary kidnapping, and certainly not an ordinary burglary. This is something solidly linked with the dream business, a business that she can't go to the police about. It's up to Sophie to figure out what is happening, who is behind it, why are they doing it, and how is she going to stop it and get her parents back. And for a twelve-year-old who has spent her entire life avoiding the world, that's going to be a tall order.

If she's going to succeed, she's going to need to do something more terrifying to her than any childhood nightmare: she's going to have to trust the other children that have become involved. And she and her new found friends are going to have to learn an incredibly hard lesson. Bravery is not the same as not being afraid. Bravery is being afraid and getting your parents back anyway, no matter the monsters that might stand between you.

The Girl Who Could Not Dream is filled with both fun and terror. In Sophie, Sarah Beth Durst provides an intelligent young woman, doing her best but frequently failing to see the obvious answers, as only a twelve-year-old who hasn't been reading/watching genre fiction for decades can do. In multiple places I found myself yelling at the book: "Just do X!", something blatantly obvious to the reader, and then reading breathlessly to see how long it would take Sophie to connect the dots.

And in Monster, Durst has created a snarky, lovable, intelligent, but not quite familiar with this reality, sidekick, who manages to steal scenes with his humor, without ever stealing the spotlight from the heroine. My greatest regret after reading The Girl Who Could Not Dream is that Monster probably won't get his own sequel. But then, I can dream, can't I?

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