Book Review: Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

TW: Murder/death, talks about rape, implied incest, misogyny, abuse, classism, hatefulness towards immigrants Let me start by ...

TW: Murder/death, talks about rape, implied incest, misogyny, abuse, classism, hatefulness towards immigrants

Let me start by saying historical fiction is not my usual go-to. I've said it before and will say it over and over again. No matter how good the book is, or how great the story actually is, it's always a slow read for me and almost always feels uneventful compared to the usual thrillers, horror novels, and YA books I tend to gravitate towards. That being said, Dreamland was actually a pretty interesting book. It combined historical fiction with a bit of political feminism and discussions of class with just a touch of mystery.

Peggy is granddaughter to one of the richest men in America, up there with the Rockfellers and Vanderbilts. The thing is, she's kind of over it. She wants to be her own person, without all the rules and riches. She wants to work in this lovely little bookstore in a job she doesn't actually need. But she's forced to quit her bookstore job and spend the summer on Coney Island with her family. There she falls in love with an immigrant artist and the summer may not be so bad after all. But then multiple women are found dead on the island. Is her family being their to blame, or is the island really as bad as she's heard?

I liked many things about this book. It takes a look at bigotry towards immigrants and the lower to middle class, there's a big feminist agenda in terms of being a "new woman" and women's suffrage. And in terms of the historical fiction genre, this was unique enough to capture my interest and keep me reading. I loved the setting of Coney Island (somewhere I've never been, but am fascinated by) and I really loved the island during 1911, when it was new and booming and so wild.

I was simultaneously annoyed by Peggy's privilege and in awe of her awareness of privilege and trying to converge the lines of class. While she irked me at times, overall I found her to be kind, smart, and relatable. She's angry about the scapegoating of immigrants and at times uses her privilege to support them, but hardly discusses these things with her family - who are the problem within society itself. It's a bit social justice-y at times.

Now here's what I didn't like. One of the biggest plot points revolves around Peggy falling in love with a man she just met and fighting for his innocence (literally putting herself in mortal danger at times) when she literally knows nothing about this person. Like, she could've been murdered because of this dumb, completely unrealistic instalove. I hated that part of the book more than anything. And then, to top that off, the person I wanted her to actually be with was completely inappropriate and gross, but I'm sure I'm not the only to ship those two. Ugh.

Additionally, the big reveal was so obvious. Seriously, the "bad guy" the entire time is so damn obvious that I didn't believe that's who it actually was. So, is it genius or sloppy that the answer was so in-your-face?

Mostly, I liked the writing, but some parts of the book were paced so slowly, I felt those could've been removed from the book altogether. The entire books takes place in about a two month timespan, but those odd moments made it seem like such a great time had passed, when it had really only been hours or days. Maybe some additional editing in those areas would have benefited the book a bit more.

"It was a bittersweet moment, to realize yet again how the only way that women in this family could get what we wanted was through whispering in the ear of men." - Dreamland, Nancy Bilyeau

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was intriguing, it kept me entertained, I enjoyed the seamless weaving of social issues. But I disliked the instalove and the villain. More than anything, I feel those pieces almost ruined the entire book for me. While this book won't push me over to read more historical fiction novels, I would definitely be interested in more books set at Coney Island. I loved the setting so much. I do think this book is worth the read if you're a big fan of the genre, or even if you're interested in books with a focus on social issues. If instalove kills it for you, I definitely wouldn't recommend.

If you're interested in the book, there's currently a giveaway on Goodreads. You can purchase the book or read on Kindle Unlimited starting January 16.

Goodreads rating: ★★★

*Thanks so much to Endeavor Media for providing this book free in exchange for an honest review as part of the current blog tour. See other participants on the graphic below.


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