Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando

Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release: May 12, 2011
Source: Library
Jane has traveled the world with her father and brother, but it's not until her fractured family-still silently suffering from the loss of Jane's mother many years before-inherits a house and a history in Coney Island that she finally begins to find a home. With the help of a new community of friends, a mermaid's secrets, and a tattooed love interest with traffic-stopping good looks, the once plain Jane begins to blossom and gains the courage to explore the secrets of her mother's past.
Dreamland Social Club built my hopes up higher than the peak of an old Coney Island roller coaster with its promise of an interesting setting, a unique cast of characters, a mystery plot line about a girl unraveling secrets of the past, and controversy about Coney's political future. Even the cover signified a quirky, utterly charming story full of wanderlust-inspiring details and cryptic clues. However, the anticipation was the highest point of my relationship with this book and reading it was like plummeting down the tracks on a wild ride after that one moment in which you feel on top of the world, but minus the excitement and plus added nausea.

Although this novel's plot revolves largely around self discovery, it is also supposed to exhibit a storyline about Jane uncovering information regarding her mother, and yet mentions of the mystery are scattered. Jane is rarely proactive about searching for facts, choosing instead to spend time romanticizing over her tattooed crush. Had this book been marketed as a romance novel, this would have made sense; because it was not, it was tiresome and annoying. Prepared for a vibrant history that illuminates the characters' pasts and adds a lush understanding to the story, I was nothing but disappointed in this novel's superabundance of lust.

The politics brought up in Dreamland Social Club center on a giant land-owning company refusing to renew contracts with many local businesses, which could have been a wonderful premise for the author to discuss and explore. The opinions expressed, though, are very black and white, offering no insight or actual thoughts on the issue. Each character seems to be almost an automaton when it comes to his or her viewpoint, and, worst of all, none of them really do anything to stand up for their individual beliefs other than start a halfhearted petition. Readers looking for debates and conflicting opinions would be better served looking elsewhere.

I also prepared myself for a mural of details about the setting that would bring the unusual background to life and was not pleased to find that the characters are the only peculiarity explored. Even that is not done with depth; in most cases, the only side of their personalities readers see is the thing that makes them a circus "freaks." While the author does use these idiosyncrasies to scrape the surface of something deeper, writing a flashback in which Jane comments on a woman's weird appearance and her mother voices with disappointment her fascination with the person's eyes, they primarily come across as a cheap attraction to grab readers' attentions. Without these somewhat one-dimensional characters, the story could have just taken place anywhere.

The problem with Dreamland Social Club is simply the author's attempt to cover so many bases. She shot for great characters, setting, mystery, politics, emotions, and romance, and unfortunately failed to execute any of them to the fullest. If Altebrando had focused more energy on three or four of these, her book could have been a wonderful success, but as it is, this book would be better for readers looking for something light that does not dive too deep into any one aspect. For these people, Dreamland Social Club may be like a wonderful carnival treat that is worth splurging on. For me, it was more like a funnel cake: something that is sweet, but that ultimately fills you with nothing more than light, barely there dough and a breath of white powdered sugar.

1 comment:

  1. How disappointing! The title is intriguing and the cover is very busy (I wasn't sure about it first, but it looks like a big carnival and I like carnivals) so I grumbled about the fact that it was more lust than anything else. A lot of YA books seem to do that lately where they promise more "mystery" or some other exciting element and then just hand us a lusting romance. I like romance, but I also want my promises met.

    Another sigh. While it SEEMS to be a great read, I hate it fails to meet certain areas like the depth issue. I think authors should do what you pointed out here: focus on just a couple bases so you can meet them instead of trying to do ALL of them. It's like someone writing a book only to have it as a bestseller and be famous.

    I like your funnel cake analogy! :)

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