Dreamland Summary

Sarah Dessen


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Dreamland Summary

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Dreamland (2000) is a teen-oriented novel in three sections by Sarah Dessen. The first section, “Cass,” opens on the sixteenth birthday of protagonist Caitlin O’Koren, when it is discovered that her eighteen-year-old sister, Cass (Cassandra) has run away. Caitlin’s family forgets that it is her birthday. Making the situation more troubling for the girls’ parents is the fact that, in just two weeks, Cass is scheduled to begin her college education at Yale University. A search is mounted, but before she is located, Cass calls to tell her parents that she is with her boyfriend, Adam. Her angry father tells Cass how disappointed in her he is. Meanwhile Caitlin’s best friend, Rina, persists in encouraging her to join the cheerleading team at school, but Caitlin refuses. Eventually, though, she gives in and makes the squad. This pleases her mother, as she views it as a way for Caitlin to keep her mind off of her sister leaving the family.

Caitlin stays on the cheerleading team for her mother’s sake, but does not enjoy it. On her first performance with the cheerleaders at half time at a game, Caitlin is at the top of a pyramid formation. While balancing there she hears Cass’s name being called. Thinking of her sister, she loses her balance and falls toward the ground. A teammate in one of the lower positions attempts to catch her and none of the members are seriously injured. Caitlin soon meets a boy Rogerson Biscoe at a car wash. Rogerson is a drug dealer. When later Caitlin is at a party with her date, Mike Evans, she encounters Rogerson again and decides to leave with him instead of Mike. They spend some time making out in a car and begin to date. Caitlin later sees Rogerson being hit by his father.

Part II of the novel is “Rogerson.” The relationship between Caitlin and Rogerson is becoming more physical than it had been, but stops short of sexual relations. Through Rogerson, Caitlin gets involved with drugs and also meets Corinna, who is in her twenties. Caitlin develops a close friendship with Corinna that includes smoking pot. As time goes on, Caitlin neglects school and fails all of her classes. Rogerson, claiming to know everything, tells her he will help her with the situation. Rather than receiving anything that helps her, Caitlin finds Rogerson becoming abusive when she does not always account for her whereabouts and when she talks to other boys. This leads Caitlin to start writing in a dream journal, which was a gift to her from Cass. The family finds Cass, in a way. She is seen in a television program that employs her boyfriend. To Caitlin’s mother it is only of interest in that, at some level, it allows her to see her daughter again. As the second part of the book ends, a few new events unfold. On Christmas Eve, Caitlin decides that she will finally go to bed with Rogerson. Looking back on their relationship later in the book, she finds that during sex is the only time that she feels safe with him. Rina invites Caitlin to the lake house of her stepfather. Caitlin fears going, as she knows Rogerson is lying in wait for her, and when she tries to call him he does not answer. When Caitlin returns home, she sees Rogerson waiting for her in his car. She gets in and is faced with Rogerson’s wrath which eventually leads to her being pushed from the car. He continues to go after her until Caitlin’s mother intervenes. A neighbor hears the ruckus and calls the police, leading to Rogerson’s arrest.

“Me” is the title of the third and final part of the book. After Rogerson’s arrest, Caitlin realizes she needs help and gets in touch with the Evergreen Rest Care Facility to deal with her drug addiction. In spite of his actions toward her, she still feels that she is in love with Rogerson. In counseling, Caitlin begins to get well. Caitlin receives letters from both Corinna and Cass. In Corinna’s letter she learns that she has broken up with her boyfriend and is living in Arizona trying to start a new life. Cass’s letter informs her sister that she left because her college plans, including Yale, were really not hers, but what their parents wanted, and she could not live that way. Rina tells Caitlin that she saw Rogerson, but he ignored her and passed without a word. At the end of the novel, Caitlin is released from the facility and returns home to find a party welcoming her, with Cass in attendance.

Although finding Dreamland to be somewhat contrived at times, Publishers Weekly never-the-less praises the book, saying, “Her parents, the stereotypically meddling mom and stiff, emotionally distant father, and her close neighbors, two touchy-feely ex-hippies, are so caught up in their own concerns, and particularly in Cassandra’s disappearance, that they fail to notice the difference in Caitlin (including what seems to be alarming physical evidence), pushing the limits of plausibility. For all these shortcuts, however, the characterizations have an unmistakable depth; readers may grow impatient with Caitlin and the obliviousness of her nearest and dearest, but they will believe she is real.”