This book is not one I would normally read, but I found myself drawn to it. Maybe it’s because I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be lost inside your head, like in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Being such an avid reader, I find myself lost in daydreams and what-ifs more often than most people I know, but what if one day I couldn’t differentiate between reality and fiction anymore? I’ve seriously thought about this happening. So, ultimately, I think I was drawn to Life Is But a Dream because I wanted to know how Sabrina deals with her diagnosis and her reality and fiction interweaving into one big reality that other people can’t see.
Sabrina, an artist, is diagnosed with schizophrenia, and her parents check her into the Wellness Center. There she meets Alec, who is convinced it’s the world that’s crazy, not the two of them. They are meant to be together; they are special. But when Alec starts to convince Sabrina that her treatment will wipe out everything that makes her creative, she worries that she’ll lose hold of her dreams and herself. Should she listen to her doctor? Her decision may have fatal consequences.
The story starts with Sabrina at the Wellness Center. She’s been there for a little while and has seemed to acclimate to her environment and schedule. Then she meets Alec and things aren’t so linear anymore. We get flashbacks intermingled with the present as Brian James shows us Sabrina at a young age, whose parents and friends delight in her imagination and creativity, to scenes where she’s trying to understand why they want her to ‘grow up’ and stop pretending. You’re never really sure who will be in the flashbacks, although they tend to center around Sabrina’s friend or her parents, or what age Sabrina will be in them, but they give us very useful insights at her slow descent into her specific mental illness. There’s no ‘aha!’ moment, though. This was a very gradual thing and Sabrina was good at hiding what she thought other people might not like her to say or do.
To say I enjoyed this book sounds wrong because it’s about a subject matter that is very touchy and often overlooked. I was taught at a young age, mostly by society, to avoid those people who talk to themselves or seem off-balanced. If they didn’t fit in, look at them with pity and then give them a wide berth because you don’t want to catch their crazy. And we kid about it, too, calling each other insane or crazy for doing silly things. Thinking about it, I do that quite a bit. I really need to stop. It’s not cool.
I liked and empathized with Sabrina. I wanted her to get better. I wanted her to be understood by her doctor, her peers and most importantly, by her parents, which is why I liked Alec… at first. He seemed to ‘get’ her. I thought they were going to be good for each other, but it becomes apparent very quickly that Alec has issues of his own he needs to sort out.
The writing itself and the way speech was formatted in the book was very well done. I liked how the idea of this all being a dream translated to having speech in italics instead of emphasized by quotation marks. It made everything float together nicely, like you were drifting along in one of Sabrina’s paintings. Unfortunately, things do start getting real and a bit scary for Sabrina. I was actually scared for her several times during the book because no one understood how much she needed someone to take notice of what was actually happening in her mind. Where’s House when you need him?
This is a stand-alone book, so we do get a sort of conclusion. Brian leaves it open-ended, but you get the feeling of optimism, which is the best way to leave Sabrina, in my opinion.
Overall, it was good. Kind of sad and it felt like you were drifting along with the clouds at times. Mellow. The girl on the cover is younger than I imagine Sabrina to look, which threw me off a little every time I looked at it, but not a big enough hindrance to really annoy me.
Life Is But a Dream comes out TODAY through Macmillan. The only waiting required to read this is how long it takes you to get to your local bookstore or library.