Allison's Book Bag

WAKE by Lisa McMann

Posted on: August 2, 2010

A supernatural thriller without vampires, werewolves, or fairies? What is the young adult book world coming to? Lisa McMann has dared to be different with her New York Times best seller WAKE. She didn’t even chose alternative popular trends of wizards and witches or angels and demons. Imagine, there are other realms worth exploring in the fantasy world!

Such as dreams. These aren’t the Freddy Kruger style either where falling asleep can put you face-to-face with a burned-up hate-spewing killer. Nor are they the Matrix type where heroes have ninja-like moves. In WAKE, as in the Nightmare movies, Janie can enter people’s dreams. But at the start this is all she can do. And when she eventually tries manipulating those dreams, she just uses commonplace interactions.

So what then is so special about her dreams? Well, for starters, isn’t being able to enter other people’s dreams a unique feat in itself? Then we start reading about Janie’s attempts to controls her actions in dreams, exit dreams by waking others or herself up, or even change the outcome of dreams. Janie might not ever fear being slashed to pieces or develop super human dream powers, but she would still rather accept a dare of running down the street naked in real life than to tell the truth about her unusual ability.

Janie dreads falling into other people’s dreams. Seeing their hopes. Seeing their failures. Viewing their inner worlds. Experiencing their nightmares. Not to mention losing sleep–every time she dreams. She can fall asleep at any time. Even when driving in her car. Or when sitting next to peers on a bus. Her body reacts physically. Shakes. Falls. As if she is having a seizure. But she’s not. And so she comes off as a freak. And it is happening more often. Teenagers sleep a lot in class.

Did you notice the staccato style I just used? It was deliberate to illustrate McMann’s style. She typically writes in short brisk sentences, in present tense, and in a third-person omniscient viewpoint. She does this to capture the immediacy of Janie’s life and dreams. (In case you’ve forgotten your grammar lessons, third-person omniscent means readers are often aware of events that even the main character isn’t privy to.) I like her style. It grew on me.

So did her book, despite some cliches. Janie is from a dysfunctional family. The father is absent and the mother might as well be. We barely read of her and when we do she is generally drunk. This is not unfamiliar territory, especially in books for young adults. On rare occasion, her mother actually acts nice. She also never abuses Janie. The relationship probably could have been less cliche and more complex, but McMann sadly never develops this angle. There is also a bad boy in the neighborhood. He does drugs, wears his hair long and clothes grubby, which means of course he’ll end up dating Janie. To McMann’s credit, she does reveal unexpected twists in his character.

Perhaps the best commendation I can give Lisa McMann is that WAKE withstood the test of repeated reading despite my knowing the outcome. I generally sympathize with an underdog. Janie is definitely one. I also remained entranced by her struggles with her so-called gift. Will she learn to control it? Will she attempt to use it for good or bad? Will it prove more dangerous to her as she encounters more sleepers? Upon both reads, I found myself staying up later and later to finish the book. This proves the book has standing power, which is a pretty big feat.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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