by Barry Jonsberg
Published by Allen & Unwin
264 pages, 2006
Dream A Little Dream
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
After the very funny, if basically serious, The Whole Trouble With Kiffo And The Pitbull and It's Not All About YOU, Calma, Barry Jonsberg's third novel might come as something of a shock. Be warned: it's grim and centered around the very nasty issue of bullying in the school system, something with which many teenage readers will be familiar. But, this being a Barry Jonsberg novel, there's more. Much more. There's also a twist at the end, as in both his other novels, but, once you have read it, you realize that the clues were there all along. It is reminiscent of the twist at the end of Brian Caswell's novel Double Exposure.
Michael Terny, the narrator of this story, is fat. It's implied that he's fat because he's using food as a comfort to deal with the stress of his mother's death and his relationship with his father afterwards. His obesity has been the excuse for his being bullied in every one of the seven schools which he has attended over the last four years, as his father moves them around, unable to deal with the grief of the loss of his wife in a car accident.
Michael's new school has caring and compassionate teachers and he seems to have made a new friend. But there are also bullies. Michael finds himself having to contend with the nasty but articulate Martin Leechy and Jamie Archer, a more clichéd type of bully; the kind who lives in a filthy house and is subject to abuse at home. Nothing, however, is what it seems.
Michael has a way of escape, through the phenomenon of lucid dreaming. In a lucid dream, the dreamer is able to control what happens. Michael has been having these dreams for some time and has become skilled in realizing when he is dreaming and turning it into what he wants. Lately, the world of dreams and that of real life seem to have been overlapping, with dream events turning up in the real world. A teacher's wife whom he cured of a brain tumor in a dream seems to be better. A blind dog belonging to his new friend has recovered its sight after a dream visit by Michael. Convinced that he has the power, he has decided to take his revenge through dreams. Again, nothing is what it seems. The only clue I will give is that everything is seen from Michael's viewpoint.
Bullying is a very real problem and the author, himself a teacher, doesn't make the mistake of catering to parents' perception that it's all the fault of the teachers, that if they were doing their job, their child would somehow be all right. These teachers do care. They know bullying is happening and want to put a stop to it, but can't do that without the victim's cooperation. And children know that cooperation will only make the matter worse. Michael's father thinks that all his son needs is some boxing lessons.
Jamie Archer, the bully, seems to be a cliché until you realize that he is only as Michael sees him and that Michael is making certain assumptions about his home life that may or may not be true. There are Jamie Archers in this world.
This will be a good book for boys in particular. It's not too long or complicated in language and while they may have a hard time sympathizing with the overweight protagonist, the story is gripping and many of them will be familiar with the situation. | June 2006
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.