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Nightmares!

Review

Nightmares!

Fear is a powerful thing, though normally it is approached as an intangible force, a shadow, a thought. In NIGHTMARES, fear is very real, and it takes Charlie Laird and his friends and family on a strange and dark journey of loss, growth, and confronting fears. The story does an excellent job of showing how destructive it can be to live in dread and denial. As Charlie faces down his metaphoric demons, he learns to confront what he fears most, and is finally able to overcome the tragedy in his life and start enjoying himself again.
 
The premise for NIGHTMARES is a rather dark one, as Charlie's mother has died and his father has remarried a woman who Charlie resents and fears. He's moved into a new, creepy house and started having nightmares. Instead of telling anyone about them, though, he wallows in his fear and pain, bottling up his emotions and letting the darkness inside him push those he cares about away. Charlie's actions are harsh, mean and petty at times, but the book always grounds them in his own pain --- he’s not unsympathetic.
 
Moving and filled with imagery that managed to be both humorous and creepy, the book was a pleasant read that left me smiling. 
 
NIGHTMARES waits to really explore the fantasy elements that it develops, keeping things a bit ambiguous as the story opens. At first, Charlie’s nightmares seem to be just that --- bad dreams. It's not until a few talks with his stepmom that things really start to seem odd. The book flows nicely from a normal story about a boy dealing with loss to an adventure into the realm of dreams itself, complete with walking nightmares and creatures trying to invade the real world from their shadowy haunts. It works well in parallels, the nightmare realm a reflection of Charlie's fears, complete with a dictator, President Fear, who has cowed most of the resident nightmares into complacency by trying to make them afraid of death.
 
NIGHTMARES manages to handle the dark subject matter nicely through a quest to free the nightmare world from the control of President Fear. It's not exactly the most subtle of metaphors, but it works. Charlie, like the nightmares, has to confront the idea of moving on and the idea of death. He has to confront his own loss, his own pain, and must find a way to keep on living, to forgive his family and himself and accept his new stepmom. At least he gets plenty of help from his friends and from his allies in the nightmare realm. 
 
The character work is strong, though there is a small amount of what could be seen as forced diversity in the casting of Charlie's friends. It wasn't incredibly bothersome to me, and some diversity is better than none, so I only mention it because it was one of the areas I felt the book could have been much better. Otherwise, the character arcs and moments were good, and each person faces their fears and comes through more confident than before. It's a fun and amusing journey, tense if a little by-the-book. The illustrations added a nice punch to some of the elements, something to look at, and the drawings are fun and fit with the style of the writing, which is slightly dark with an underlying sincerity.
 
Overall I feel that NIGHTMARES does a good job of circling back and dealing with Charlie’s loss and fears. His specific experience is extreme, but it does push the idea that fears have to be faced to be overcome. And while it didn't complicate that message all that much (this is a children's book and the good guys still win without reservation), it does a fine job with what it does take on. Moving and filled with imagery that managed to be both humorous and creepy, the book was a pleasant read that left me smiling. I'm less sure how they're going to make a series out of this, as seems to be the intent, but as a one-and-done it works and works well.

Reviewed by Charles Payseur on October 24, 2014

Nightmares!
(Nightmares! #1)
by Jason Segel, Kirsten Miller, and Karl Kwasny

  • Publication Date: September 9, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0385744250
  • ISBN-13: 9780385744256