Janie Hannagan is different. Since she was a little girl, she's been sucked into other people's dreams.
Their anxiety dreams, their nightmares, the dreams where they're making out with their best friend - she sees it all, a passive observer. She wishes she didn't, and goes out of her way to avoid it, but still it happens.
Then one day, Janie gets sucked into a dream like no other. This one's dark, and she doesn't want to be there, helplessly watching. Before long, she's also entangled with the dreamer - and she realises things have got to change. Janie can't just watch anymore.
In a sea of epic-scale YA fantasy titles, Wake is an unassuming little volume. I'm someone who likes to savour a novel: I'm not fazed by slow-moving stories, lengthy descriptive passages, or five hundred pages of teeny tiny typeface. I guess that's why I was so pleasantly surprised by Wake, the first instalment in Lisa McMann's series about a girl who gets sucked into other people's dreams. Why surprised? Because this book is refreshingly... short. It's a quick read, written in an uncluttered style that seems stark at first but over the course of the book's two hundred pages reveals itself to be deceptively poetic. And in those two hundred pages, Lisa McMann makes an impact. For that reason alone, Wake stands out from other fantasy titles. It's skilful, eloquent, and a reminder that quantity does not equal quality.
Wake's premise is an appealing one: after all, dreams can take a person anywhere, and conjure up all manner of things that go bump in the night. In truth, I was expecting Janie to be a butt-kicking dream-demon vanquisher, but that's not exactly where this premise is going - well, not in this instalment. Instead, Janie is presented to us as a girl with a kind of paranormal affliction. She doesn't want to enter other people's dreams, she can't control it, and when she is sucked into one it can lead to all kinds of problems for her physical self. Think shaking uncontrollably, losing consciousness, and even causing accidents.
For the reader, what this means is that the narrative of Janie's waking life can be pulled out from under them at any second, no matter how inconvenient, as she gets sucked into somebody's dream. It makes for a disjointed experience at first, but I soon became accustomed to the style. Not to mention the comic value of Janie discovering more about the people around her than she wants to know. Let's face it, people dream about a lot of embarrassing stuff, and Wake doesn't shy away from that. The dreams of the other characters lend to the story a combination of wry humour, understated emotion and the terror of our darkest fears.
A few last words on Wake's central love story. It's a sweet one. Janie and Cabel are believable together, in an independent-movie type way, and it's impossible not to root for them. There are points when I started to worry that Cabel was 'bad boy' in a bad way, but that's all explained eventually - albeit in a slightly off-the-wall twist. Plus, Janie's the kind of character you want to see have a happy ending. She may seem to be kind of passive in terms of her presence in people's dreams, but in her waking life she's a pretty impressive role model - a trailer park kid who works hard at school and at a job to make college a possiblity on her own steam. You have to like her for that. You just wouldn't want to fall asleep anywhere near her.
Wake is an amazing book. Amazing enough to make me wish it were longer, and to appreciate that it's actually just right as it is. Besides, it's just the first in the series - so plenty more dream catcher goodness to look forward to. And it is damn good. See for yourself.
Out: now, in the UK and US.
Many thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for providing a copy for review.