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Dreamers Often Lie

April 28, 2017

I heard about Jacqueline West’s YA novel Dreamers Often Lie at Your Daughter’s Bookshelf and thought that reading about a girl who has Shakespearean delusions after a head injury sounded pretty interesting, so I hunted up a copy and ended up thoroughly enjoying it. One of the things an adult should do from time to time is come into contact with someone (real or fictional) who goes to high school, because afterwards adult life will seem like a breeze, in comparison.

The protagonist of Dreamers Often Lie is named Jaye; she lives with her mother and sister in the wake of her father’s death in a car crash the year before. As the novel begins she is in the hospital with a head injury she suffered skiing, something the rest of her family loves and she has always hated. What Jaye loves is theater, and she has been cast as Titania in her high school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When Jaye wakes up in the hospital, though, she not only has a variety of characters from Shakespeare’s plays running through her head–and, seemingly, her hospital room–she sometimes sees and hears the bard himself acting as a kind of father figure.

It becomes apparent to readers, from how her sister and mother react to Jaye, that because of her head injury, she sometimes doesn’t remember things. So when she doesn’t recognize her doctor and says “I kept my eyes fixed on his face, but it was hard to focus on his words. Especially when Hamlet tiptoed around the bed and grinned at me over my sister’s shoulder,” we chalk it up to her head injury. When it keeps happening, though, we start to wonder, as Jaye herself does. She follows Shakespeare’s advice, “one finger against his lips,” because she’s not sure what’s real and what’s illusion.

I wasn’t sure what to think when Jaye walks haltingly out of the hospital and says she sees something behind her out of the corner of her eye:
“I glanced over my shoulder, expecting to see an impatient nurse or doctor stuck in our wake.
Instead, there were fairies.
Three of them. They had sparkly skin and pointed features and bare feet. All three of them beamed at me.
Then they started to sing, in little flutey fairy voices.
Over hill, over dale, thorough brush, thorough brier;
Over park, over pale, thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere, swifter than the moon’s sphere…
I clenched my teeth and turned away. The fairies kept singing, skipping behind us, showering us with petals that apparently only I could feel.”

Finally Jaye does tell someone about how she can’t tell the difference between dreams and reality. She says to her sister, Sadie:
“Ever since the hospital, I’ve been having these dreams. Sometimes it’s like I’m stuck inside them, and they’re so real that I don’t even try to wake up, and sometimes I know I’m awake, but pieces of the dreams—people from the dreams—are still there….I know they aren’t really there. But I can’t make them go away.”
Her sister reassures her, saying “lots of people see and hear things after a head injury. Medications can make you hallucinate too. That, on top of a concussion…” But Jaye keeps seeing Shakespearean characters, and she begins to get to know a new guy at school named Rob, who she first imagined was Romeo. That impression doesn’t fade as the plot develops; it gets stronger, especially since a family friend (his name is Pierce and she never sees him as Paris even though that is the part he plays) has also begun to pursue her as a romantic interest.

At one point when Pierce is about to drive her home from school, Jaye tells us she sees
“a flash of motion in the rearview mirror, and I looked around to see Hamlet and Ophelia making out in the backseat. Delightful. I sank down in my own seat, feeling prickly and trapped.”

When Jaye sees a scene that she initially describes as “two actors…dueling,” the reader can’t tell whether she is awake, asleep, or hallucinating. She says
“I thought they must be Laertes and Hamlet, acting out their final scene. But when they changed direction, I could see their faces for the first time.
It was Pierce and Rob.”
Jaye doesn’t see that she has cast the people in her life into Shakespearean roles, but it becomes increasingly clear to the reader.

As the end of the story approaches, after another hit on the head, Jaye begins to refer to Rob as “Romeo” when she is thinking about him and “Rob” when she sees him in person. So if you’ve seen (or read) Romeo and Juliet, you know something about the ending, except that in this novel, Juliet has seen the play she’s in too, and so she can act to affect how it ends.

I found this a fairly charming update of the play’s main theme, with much less-sheltered young lovers. The playwright’s appearance, along with characters from other plays, adds a level of predictability to a story that keeps a reader guessing for the first few pages.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2017 10:23 am

    This sounds good to me. I agree with you about reading about teens – I’m so glad I’m not that age right now.

    • April 29, 2017 10:27 am

      Me too. The original review I read said Jaye’s mother was too permissive, but I didn’t see that at all; I felt like the circumstances of their life had been set up so that Jaye couldn’t talk to her mother enough.

  2. April 30, 2017 7:09 pm

    Well this sounds fun! Kind of a Francesca Lia Blockish version of Susan Cooper’s book King of Shadows?

    • April 30, 2017 10:53 pm

      Well, the flavors are right, but this one stays firmly in the present day.

  3. May 3, 2017 12:11 pm

    Well, that sounds trippy! I have a problem with YA sometimes. My problem is I’m a Fogey McOldster crankpot and often get irritated with YA characters and all the drama. I remember my “youth” well and I guess that’s why I am reluctant to relive it in fiction. But with a weird premise like this, I might like it.

    • May 4, 2017 10:59 am

      Or maybe you should save it for when your own child reaches the teen years? That’s when I learned to love reading some YA selections. I could sympathize with the characters because I saw the kinds of things my kids were going through.

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