Life Is But a Dream
By Brian James
Expected publication March 27, 2012 by Feiwel and Friends
Sabrina is an artist. She is also, if you believe her doctors, schizophrenic. But Sabrina knows she's not crazy. She's in the Wellness Center because her parents put her there. Soon, she meets Alec. And as soon as she sees him, she knows - he is the boy from her dreams. He is like her. Together, they will find their way to the heaven Sabrina has been seeing. She just has to get all this medicine out of her system...
Okay, I don't even remember picking up this book at Midwinter, but I must have. I am always pleased to read more contemporary YA because I read A LOT of fantasy/sci-fi and it can get tiring eventually. So maybe that's why I picked this up. Anyway, I was not really prepared when I began this book. I always re-read the blurb before I start a new book so that I can remind myself what I'm about to read (especially when I'm picking up one of the ARCs I received at a conference) and this was no exception. So, clearly, I knew that this was going to be a story about a girl with a mental illness. But I was not prepared for how difficult this book was going to be. This is a very hard book to read. Sabrina is our narrator, so we really get no respite from this point of view. This is a taste of what it feels like to be mentally ill and it is incredibly well-done. I don't believe I've ever read anything by James before, but he clearly has a talent. Sabrina's world is completely different from ours but it lays right on top of the world we know. The effect is jarring and disorienting, compelling and complex. However, because we are not actually Sabrina, we are able to maintain some distance from the events in the novel. This distance allows us to see that, from the moment Sabrina meets Alec, things are going to go awry. It's not that Alec reads like a bad guy - it just becomes clear that he has no experience dealing with someone like Sabrina. This is one of the greatest strengths of this novel - even though we can see that Alec is bad for Sabrina, we can understand why he doesn't know that. This book is believable and gripping and totally readable. However, this book totally lost me in the last two chapters. For me, the ending of this book is completely unbelievable and almost ruined the book for me. After everything that we've learned about Sabrina and her illness, this ending just didn't seem right. Otherwise, though, this is an incredibly well-done book that I think will appeal greatly to teens. Definitely recommended.
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.