Top critical review
My opinion: Meh
on November 19, 2003
The Dreaming Place is a YA urban fantasy novel about two cousins, sixteen year old girls, who get tangled up in a magical tug-of-war with a Native American spirit of winter. The story is a sweet one, but I felt just a little too heavy-handed with the moral. It did touch me in some spots, but in others I felt it was being too obvious.
The main characters, Nina and Ash, are so typical they verge on being stereotypes. The book ends up being Caitlin's Way crossed with Sabrina the Teenaged Witch...
I ended up liking Ash more than Nina mainly because I could identify with her pain (she lost her mother). And because, despite her predictability, she showed more personality than her cousin. I kept being annoyed by the book because Nina was acting rather vapid and whiny through most of it, and I could feel the author's preference for her on every page.
De Lint, I think, thought more people (or kids) would identify with Nina, who is smart and thinks math is interesting and worries about boys and complexions and reads Sassy magazine. Ash is the bad one--the girl who skips class and doesn't care about things, and walls off her emotions, and can't deal with the world. But Ash, who often sits in the park and has actual conversations with homeless people (oh my!) is a far more complex character in my view. She has bravery and skill as well as brains. This all comes into play when the conflict rears its ugly head, but the end message seems to be "Only when Ash learns that it's better to be more like her cousin than like herself can she save the day and be happy." I'm not down with that.
The idea for this book is a good one. But I think length worked against de Lint in that some areas of the otherworld and Nina's personal power (not to mention Ash's) and what forces led to this confrontation were not as fleshed out as they could have been. This felt like it should have been a longer book but just... wasn't.
The secondary characters need a lot of help themselves. Nina's parents are doing well in their roles until the end, where they come face to face with the weirdness going on in their daughter and niece's lives. However, at that point they become highly unbelievable and one wonders if things might have gone better had they not ever gotten involved. Better for the reader, anyway, not to have to deal with the thin or unbelievable characterization going on.
The most interesting person in the book is a secondary character: Cassie. At one point Ash realizes that she doesn't know much about this woman she calls friend and regrets it. I regret it, too, because I'm far more interested in her role in this and her past than I am in anyone else in the book.
Once we get beyond Ash and Nina, everyone else starts to take on the veneer of Plot Device.
There is a lot of bandying about with different kinds of magic and belief systems. Native American shamans (or, juju men...) hanging out with women who deal magical tarot cards. Then there is the Dreaming Place itself, which is supposed to be faerie or the dreamtime or any quasi-magical not the real world place in mythology. But it's mostly populated by Native American spirits and creatures. There's also something about a Cornish spirit that didn't come through clear to me.
Basically, de Lint is trying to weave several different systems here to create a mysterious, yet coherent, whole. It's not quite working, in my opinion.
Despite all my grousing, I enjoyed most of the book. It wasn't until the end that things started falling apart and losing steam. The premise is good, the execution not so. A good read for the Tween set, as it isn't truly bad, and may teach them a thing or two.