Friday, September 13, 2019

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

Reviewed by Kristin

Santa Lora is a quiet little college town tucked up in the mountains of Southern California. Most of the townsfolk know their neighbors, at least to wave at while walking their dogs or strolling with their babies. Many work at the college or in some supporting business around town. And of course, the college is where the sickness starts.

One night Kara falls asleep in her dorm room and continues to sleep through the next day. Her roommate Mei, a shy Chinese girl who hasn’t really bonded with anyone during their first weeks at school, quietly slips out and leaves her to sleep. When Kara hasn’t awoken by the evening, Mei realizes that something is wrong. The girl is quickly whisked away by paramedics, but doctors can find no reason behind her slumber and all usual methods of stimulation fail. She is simply asleep.

Other girls on the same hall soon succumb to the sleeping sickness. Panic arises, although perhaps not quickly enough for precautions to be taken. No one knows how this is spreading from one person to the next. Could it be psychological, some form of hysteria? Transmitted physically by close contact? An airborne virus? Before long, professors and other townspeople are also tugged into unconsciousness by this mysterious illness.

Many voices carry this story as the author sketches out characters with a seemingly effortless hand. Mei becomes close to Matthew, another student with strong convictions of right and wrong. Sara and Libby are preteen girls living with their survivalist father, always wondering what paranoid idea he will have next. Ben and Annie are new parents to weeks-old Grace and they would do anything to protect their infant. Catherine is a psychiatrist brought in to help diagnose the illness and is soon caught in a quarantine situation while her own daughter is hours away with a babysitter. The characters are vivid and drawn with beautiful language, making the chapters flow by quickly and smoothly.

Will the Dreamers ever wake up? The number of victims begins to grow exponentially while caretakers and resources are stretched thin. Why do some people remain untouched while family members suddenly close their eyes and slump to the ground? If the sleepers ever do wake up, will they recover fully? And what of those who do remain wakeful? Living through this extraordinary catastrophe pushes them to their limits and tests their strengths while exposing their most vulnerable human weaknesses.

Karen Thompson Walker is also the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Age of Miracles.

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