Life Is But a Dream
by Brian James
Published by Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
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.(from Goodreads)
After reading this novel, it is easier to comprehend why mental illness can be easily misunderstood. From the beginning I know that Sabrina is checked into the Wellness Center after being diagnosed with schizophrenia, but what I don't know is what were the circumstances that placed her there. It is a mystery not shared with the reader but something did happen as Sabrina's doctor tries to get her to talk open up and talk about it. Keeping this event a mystery is what drew me in so completely because it made me unsure if there really was anything wrong with Sabrina. Like Alec, it is easy to believe that everyone else was crazy because all of the beauty that Sabrina saw. And this is what makes this book so special.
When Alec arrives at the Wellness Center, I wasn't too sure what too think about him. I didn't know if he was there because he suffered from a mental illness too or if he was there because of behavioral problems and this was the alternative to juvenile detention. In the beginning, I could never trust what he was saying. It is when he convinces Sabrina to stop taking her medications, her world before the treatment center begins to reveal itself. He revels in the way she describes the world she sees and encourages her to explore it more. He sees her beauty in this creativity. But what he doesn't understand that he is harming her. He clearly doesn't understand her illness or that what he is doing is damaging her - making her world unsafe. Yet it is in these same moments that you see that he really begins to care for her. This is what makes their relationship so confusing and dramatic.
One of my favorite parts of the book is when Sabrina first sees Alec. It offers some insight about her perspective of reality and how her dreams are intertwined with her waking moments:
"Strangers make me shy. Usually their smiles make me turn away, but he isn't like other strangers. He's a familiar stranger. I've seen him before in a dream. I believe sometimes my dreams are of memories from the future. Sometimes they are about places I will go someday or people that I'm going to know but don't know yet." (pg. 15)
Passages such as this make me believe that there is some truth in what Sabrina is saying. And there is.
I've said it here already, but Brian James has written something really special. He paints pictures with his words making me desperate to see the beauty in the world that Sabrina sees. He allows me into a world I don't completely understand but want to take the time to consider. I wanted to read this book as soon as I heard about it and am excited to share it here. I would recommend Life Is But a Dream to readers who enjoy contemporary young adult and want to read more stories involving mental illness.
Disclaimer: I requested this novel for review from NetGalley and this review is based on the Advance Reading Copy. Quotes are taken from the ARC and may differ from the final version.