Book Review: The Cure for Dreaming

Cure for DreamingIn this YA novel, hypnotism and the suffrage movement are combined in startling ways to give us a portrait of life in 1900 for a young woman who is, pretty much literally, too independent for her own good.

On her 17th birthday, Olivia Mead attends a hypnotism show headlined by the young, talented Henri Reverie, a “mesmerist” whose talents have made him famous across the country. Egged on by her friends, Olivia volunteers to be Henri’s first subject, and astonishes the entire audience by her extreme susceptibility to his hypnotism. She’s so far under that he’s able to make her stiff as a board, suspend her between two chairs (as in the cover photo), and even stand on her torso, all without her knowledge.

Olivia is slightly embarrassed, but also enjoys the newfound attention her moment in the spotlight brings, especially from wealthy, out-of-her-reach Percy, the judge’s son. Olivia’s own father, the local dentist (with a truly horrifying collection of tools), is less than pleased. He wants nothing more than for Olivia to be good and obedient, especially after learning that she’d attended a suffragists’ rally the day before. He arranges for a private hypnotism session with Henri, during which Henri compels Olivia to see the world as it truly is, to understand the roles of men and women, and to be able to say nothing but “all is well” when she becomes angry.

This backfires, of course. Olivia is an avid fan of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and thanks to the hypnotism, when she looks at her father, she sees him as he truly is — fanged, clawed, and monstrous. She sees the truth of many of the women of her town as well, who fade into invisibility as Olivia watches. Desperate, she tracks down Henri and begs him to fix her — but there’s a reason why he can’t just yet, and the two form a scheme to give Olivia back control of her own mind and voice and to get Henri what he desperately needs.

The Cure For Dreaming is a captivating portrait of the plight of women at the dawn of the 20th century. The author does a wonderful job of weaving together an individual’s personal struggles with the struggles of women at that time. It’s easy for us, sitting here in the comforts of 2015, to take for granted the rights we enjoy, and this book reminds us of the venom and hostility that confronted the women’s suffrage movement. The women who dared to take a public stance and speak out were demonized, ridiculed, accused of being unwomanly or even insane, and were subjected to all sorts of horrible public humiliations. In this book, looking through Olivia’s eyes, we see how far the men — and even many women — were willing to go to silence the voices of women who stood up for equality and the right to speak their minds.

As one character describes to Olivia:

“My father leaned over to me and said, “Now, that’s womanhood perfected, Percy my boy. That’s the type of girl you want. Silent. Alluring. Submissive.”

I can’t say enough about how powerful and engrossing this story is. Olivia is a marvelous lead character — smart, warm-hearted, and unwilling to keep silent when she sees something wrong. Her need to speak out is what gets her into trouble, of course, but at the same time, she makes a difference in all sorts of unexpected ways, even when forced through the power of hypnotic compulsion to be compliant and stifle her anger.

Olivia’s interactions with Henri do not take the anticipated route, and despite the growing feelings between the two, this book does not go down the dreaded path of showing a young woman throwing away her own plans in order to follow a guy. Olivia has a backbone and a commitment to staying true to herself, and that’s a lovely thing to see in a YA heroine.

The book itself is wonderful to page through, as chapter breaks are illustrated by historical photos from the book’s era, as well as by a selection of powerful quotes by everyone from Kate Chopin to Mark Twain to Carrie Nation.

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The Cure for Dreaming is a fast read — I gobbled it up over the course of 24 hours! I was hooked almost instantly, and just couldn’t bear to put the book down. The characters are well-drawn, the subject of hypnotism is fascinating, the relationships between the characters are pitch-perfect, and the context of the fight for women’s votes and the right to one’s own voice is powerfully presented. While written for a young adult audience, the book does not oversimplify or talk down in any way. As an adult reader, I loved the book and was never bored. This would be a great choice for teen girls, and could also provide some great discussion starting points for mothers and daughters who want a book they can share and enjoy together.

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The details:

Title: The Cure for Dreaming
Author: Cat Winters
Publisher: Amulet
Publication date: October 14, 2014
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Library

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