Book: Dreams of the Dead

Dreams of the Dead
Thomas Randall
2009 (Bloomsbury)

Kara and her father have just moved to Japan so that her father can teach at a private school in an idyllic little Japanese town. Although everything seems perfect at first, Kara soon discovers that a grizzly murder occurred on the school grounds the term before they arrived and no suspects were ever arrested in the case. The victim was one of the students and her sister, who quickly becomes Kara’s friend, suspects that she was murdered by fellow schoolmates. Suddenly, several students begin having terribly nightmares (Kara included) and one by one kids start dying in mysterious ways. Kara and her friends set out to solve the mystery before every last one of them ends up dead.

The mystery in this book is pretty good. There are plenty of interesting interlocking clues, an appealing supernatural element, and enough kept hidden to keep the reader guessing. The problem is that parts of it don’t work. The justification for Kara getting the nightmares and being one of the intended targets is so weak that even the characters have trouble justifying it. While I appreciate that including her in the list of potential victims is an effective way of getting the heroine involved right away, it was possibly the biggest plot hole in the book and seriously hurt the mystery’s credibility throughout the entire story.

It’s very clear that the author of this book loves Japan, or at least his idealized version of it. Everything about the setting is carefully chosen and arranged, lovingly described. It’s almost like the author is describing is own perfect little fantasy world for us where cute Japanese girls in short-skirted sailor fuku uniforms pulled right out of the cheesiest animes attend school in ancient temples set among lush, picturesque natural settings. All this while still having all the conveniences of the modern world! It’s too perfect and too much of a western fantasy version of Japan. And the main character shares this fascination and almost worship of this perfect image.

This setting wasn’t believable in the least and felt weirdly paired with the ghost story mystery. While I appreciate the desire to connect the folkloric elements of the mystery with the feel of historical Japan, it just didn’t work for me. I felt like it was an interesting story being told by someone more interested in the perfect anime world than in the actual country of Japan or the actual folkloric elements of the story. I kept wondering why they didn’t search the internet for information on the supernatural creature, but that might have broken the pastoral, anime spell, so I’m not terribly surprised that they didn’t, even if it would have been the logical thing for cell-phone carrying teenagers in Japan to do.

I also want to comment on the cover of this book. I read an advanced reader copy that I received from the publisher and it has the cover shown above. This cover makes absolutely no sense. It’s photographic, which is pretty much all Bloomsbury ever uses, and it’s a white girl, which again, fits with their MO (much has been written about this lately in regards to the cover of Liar, so I’m not going to spend time on Bloomsbury’s typical practices other than to say they exist). The problem is, I can’t figure out what it’s supposed to be. This story takes place in Japan and only two characters in it are white – Kara and her father. Both of them are alive throughout the entire book and Kara not only never sleeps outside, but she’s not really a frilly type of girl (as the blond girl on the cover is dressed). There are several dead girls and sleep is an important theme, but all the dead girls are Japanese and, as I said, this blond girl in no way seems to have anything to do with Kara. I’m starting to wonder if Bloomsbury just pulls random stock art until they find something that matches the title and listed genre! The cover shown on the website is shown below in a thumbnail and at least matches the text, if not the genre or feel of the story. If I had to pick one of these two, I’d go with the one from the website, but I think they both suck.

This is an interesting book and a decent mystery, which is a genre that could always use more teen-specific titles. Still, it has a lot of problems and I’m not really sure that I could say that I recommend it. I wasn’t fond of this book at all. It’s the first in a series of three (either called The Waking or Gaijin Girl, I’m not sure which), although where the series is going exactly I have no idea. I’m certain there is an audience out there for this book (possibly somewhere among the manga-reading teens), but I really wouldn’t be comfortable recommending it. If you really like supernatural mysteries and have always wanted to live in an anime, this might be your book, but otherwise, I’d stay away.

- Publisher’s Description
- The Official The Waking Series Website

- Thomas Randall’s Website

- Buy it from Amazon

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