Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Circus of Stolen Dreams by Lorelei Savaryn

The Circus of Stolen Dreams by Lorelei Savaryn
Philomel/Penguin Young Readers Group, 2020, 304 pages

When their once happy parents had divorced, Andrea and her younger brother Francis had been devastated by it. Then Francis disappeared and was never found. It's been three years now and Andrea, 12. still hasn't come to terms with it, unable to accept that her funny brother, who was so full of life, could really be gone for good and blaming herself for his disappearance. And now, her parents want Andrea to go through Francis' belongings in the garage and chose a few things to keep so they can let the rest go and hopefully move on with their lives. 

But Andrea isn't ready for that, and instead of going through Francis' stuff, she grabs her bike and rides off after dinner, heading to the park where she and her brother used to play and into the surrounding forest. There, in the dirt, Andrea finds an old flyer for a place called Reverie, a place where visitors can forget their troubles.
Thinking this is just the escape she needs, Andrea is surprised to find it is still around. At the gate, a young girl greets her, telling her that Reverie is always there for those who need it, for any child who desperately needs escape, and the cost of admission is merely one dream or a memory, in Andrea's case it is the memory of the day Francis disappeared. Inside the circus, Andrea finds it is a magical place. There are shops that sell anything you could want, plenty of treats to be had and tents full of attractions, though the girl at the gate warns Andrea not to spend too much time in the Nightmare tent. 

Andrea immediately makes friends with Penny Periwinkle, a girl oddly dressed and with dark circles under her eyes as if she needs to sleep. But Penny is an old hand at Reverie and introduces Andrea to all the best places. But there is one tent that Andrea feels oddly drawn to called Root River, though Penny steers her away from it. 

The next morning, waking up in her room, Andrea needs to be reminded that Francis is gone, but why can't she now remember the night he disappeared? Realizing she has to return to Reverie, she finds what she needs in her pocket to go back. Sure enough, Andrea finds herself back at this magical circus, at the dream tent called Rood River. And after going through it, she is convinced that Francis had found his way to Reverie at some point, and his price of admission was the recurring nightmare in the tent called Root River. And if that is the case, Andrea is convinced that Francis is still alive, trapped somewhere in Reverie. But Reverie is controlled by the Sandman, a mysterious person who carries the dreams of children around in his umbrella, and whom Andrea is sure isn't who he appears to be. She soon realized that as long as the Sandman holds their dreams and nightmares, the children are trapped in an endless night in Reverie. Will Andrea be able to outsmart the Sandman, find Francis if he really is there, and bring him home?

The Circus of Stolen Dreams is a debut novel for Lorelei Savaryn and it really kept me on the edge of my seat all the way through. Through all kinds of twists and turns, Savaryn builds a dream world subtly making what appears to be a welcomed oasis from one's waking pain into a nightmare that feels harder and harder to escape, as Andrea quickly discovers. It is a story that begins ordinarily enough but quickly turned into a fantasy thriller, and I can genuinely say, the Sandman is truly the stuff of nightmares.

I really enjoyed reading this book. There a lot to discover if you read carefully. For example, there is a nice bit that connects the end of the book to the beginning, but you'll have to read it to find it, and it will leave you wondering if this book really is fantasy or reality fiction. Either way, it's really a terrific read, one that has been compared to Neil Gaiman's Coraline or Katherine Arden's Small Spaces. They certainly all have that same creepy otherworldly vibe to them. 

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from NetGalley 

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