Review: Dealing in Dreams – Starts Off High, Crashes To Blandness

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Title: Dealing in Dreams
Author: Lilliam Rivera
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: March 5th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Dystopia
Subjects and Themes: Feminism
Page Count: 336 (hardback)

Rating: 6.0/10

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Sixteen-year-old Nalah leads the fiercest all-girl crew in Mega City. That role brings with it violent throwdowns and access to the hottest boydega clubs, but Nala quickly grows weary of her questionable lifestyle. Her dream is to get off the streets and make a home in the exclusive Mega Towers, in which only a chosen few get to live. To make it to the Mega Towers, Nalah must prove her loyalty to the city’s benevolent founder and cross the border in a search of the mysterious gang the Ashé Riders. Led by a reluctant guide, Nalah battles crews and her own doubts but the closer she gets to her goal the more she loses sight of everything—and everyone—she cares about.

Nalah must choose whether or not she’s willing to do the unspeakable to get what she wants. Can she discover that home is not where you live but whom you chose to protect before she loses the family she’s created for good?

flourish

I went into Dealing in Dreams expecting three things:

1) “The Outsiders meets Mad Max: Fury Road”
2) Female friendships
3) Subversive look at feminism

To my delight and surprise, one of those “X meets Y” blurbs actually proved to be pretty accurate because the world of Dealing in Dreams is one of girl gangs and throwdowns and unrepentant, gritty ultraviolence.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic society where women rule the top of the food chain–as gang members and soldiers to Dessee, the city’s ruler–and men either toil away in factories or in clubs as sex workers (“papi chulos”). And dreams (or sueños)–a drug made to induce euphoric dreaming–are manufactured and dealt like currencies. Overall, it’s a cool, unforgiving city and Rivera paints a stark portrait of it.

I wasn’t as impressed with the female friendships. I never got a good sense of the other girls in Nalah’s gang, and there were definitely no heartwrenching “Stay gold” moments to be found here.

The biggest draw of the book, aside from its worldbuilding, is the theme that it carries. Rivera addresses gender roles and equality and the issue of feminism being presented as the direct opposite of male dominance–the idea that tough, rough women and submissive men equates to a better world. It asks the readers whether lopping off the head of one kind of inequality only to replace it with another can really be called progress.

“You are forced to abide by rigid rules on what it means to be a man and a woman…Do you think violence makes you more of a woman? Does forcing papis to work at boydegas make them a better ally?”

And I love that. That’s a fantastic message. And I loved the way it was presented in the first half.

But I found the second half to be a massive let-down. It felt like an abridged version of the book, with several sections missing from the middle, and events happened far too quickly to pack any kind of emotional punch. And this denial of a satisfying lead-up to the ending renders that message, not moot, but significantly less powerful.

The writing style also plays a part in this issue. It’s super clipped and plain which fits the setting and the MC’s personality pretty well, but doesn’t do much in terms of showing off the secondary characters, and ends up muting scenes that could otherwise have been poignant.

The book is still definitely worth giving a shot, but considering the sheer amount of potential it had, my feelings on Dealing in Dreams are mostly of disappointment.

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19 thoughts on “Review: Dealing in Dreams – Starts Off High, Crashes To Blandness

  1. Gerry@TheBookNookUK says:

    I’m glad that a book that has ‘gender flipped’ a society and has a violent matriarchy has actually called this out in its own narrative. One thing I dislike is when a piece of fiction designs a matriarchal society but all they do is take the traits of a patriarchal society and swap it by giving it to women and calling it a matriarchy.

    I find that a) that doesn’t restore or address any kind of balance (like what this book seems to be addressing) and b) they take typical ‘male’ traits and see those as the value by which to live life but it’s ok as its now women doing it!

    I don’t know if that makes any sense at all!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      That makes total sense! That is absolutely one of my not-so-pet peeves too. And I think perpetuating that trope in media leads to the perpetuation of the idea that women in the real world need to act just like the men in order to gain respect and equality. Which is just so damaging. And it kind of gets lost in the second half, but the story talks about nurture and love being a greater strength than violence, which I liked LOT.

      Ugh. If the plot and the characters had worked out I would 1000% say you should give it a try, because I think you would really appreciate all the themes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Gerry@TheBookNookUK says:

        Ah its such a shame that this book was getting some themes right but then it doesn’t matter if the themes are great if plot and character fall through 😦 If there’s anything with similar themes I’ll definitely give it a try because I’m really interested in that kind of stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

        Oooh, Naomi Alderman’s The Power is something you might like!! It’s like an inverted Handmaid’s Tale, with women suddenly in possession of supernatural powers. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve HEARD a lot about it and some people seem to really love it and others…not so much. I guess the problem with books that tackle these themes is that they run the risk of being too on-the-nose. But I don’t know if you *can* write about it without being at least a little on-the-nose.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Gerry@TheBookNookUK says:

        I’ve never heard of that one (or Naomi Alderman for that matter) so it’s definitely one to put on the watch list. Sometimes I find that its more the idea of a book that I love more than the book itself but then that comes down to how the writer has executed it. I don’t mind things being on the nose or controversial and quite often if there’s loads of differing opinions on something it makes me want to read it even more!

        Like

  2. Norrie says:

    Great review! I wasn’t sure about this one, but i think it’s not my sort of book. Clipped writing is ok, to a certain extent, but when the plot feels rushed it’s not really what i’m looking for 😀

    Like

  3. acquadimore says:

    That’s disappointing to hear since I loved the idea (…girl gangs? girl gangs.) but I haven’t seen one review so far that said the execution was satisfying. And that kind of second half is the worst – at least when a book is not that great from the beginning I can tell and DNF.
    Anyway, great review! I think I’ll avoid this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. @lynnsbooks says:

    Post apocalyptic can be hit or miss or me and I don’t tend to read as much of it these days so would probably pass this one for now. Maybe my taste will revert back eventually because I did used to read quite a bit of this type of book so who knows.
    Never say never – well, I just did say never (and now I said it again – dagnabbit)
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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