Sunday 20 February 2022

BOOK REVIEW - Dream Kids: A Novel by Michael Wayne Hampton

Dream Kids: A Novel
Author: Michael Wayne Hampton
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction / Realistic Fiction / Coming of Age
Publication Date: 22nd March 2022

Book Description:
Out of place at an experimental high school, sensitive high school junior Bryce Hughes steals his father's pharmaceutical sales samples to stay steady and share recreationally with his wealthy, spoiled, nihilistic friends at their wild weekend parties. Hopelessly hung up on his ex-girlfriend, Paige, whose emotions are as fickle as her taste for fashion, Bryce can barely see the quiet scholarship girl, Jaycee, who adores him. 

Over the course of a single school year, Bryce and his crew from The Dream Academy have to survive classes they don’t understand, work in the real world, pressure to uphold their school’s public brand, betrayals, and cyberbullying that threatens to push one of their own over the edge.

Each lost Dream Kid must find a way to save their future, their sense of self, and their passions, while fighting to reconcile who they are at heart with who they are believed to be by others.

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The bold and arresting book cover of Dream Kids just screams rebellion, so, obviously, I had to grab a copy and delve right in. Dream Kids is a book I was rooting for even before turning to the first page. It sought my attention from the get-go, and I was more than happy to oblige. A book about alienation, about characters trying to find acceptance in a world that doesn't seem to acknowledge their presence, Dream Kids follows a group of privileged high school friends as they try to weave through relationships, friendships, identity crisis and their futures.

The story centres around Bryce Hughes and his ragtag crew of misfit friends, who, all but for one member, are spoiled rich kids with no sense of direction or care for anything other than their social status and partying. After being humiliated as a party virgin and being stuck with the nickname Mouse his entire freshman year, Bryce vouched never again to be subjected to such humiliation by his peers. He learned how to fit in and found a group to get him through his school years. The crew attend The Dream Academy, an experimental high school whose curriculum isn't set in stone, thus they never know what to expect or what demands will be thrown their way. Bryce hasn't got a clue what he wants for his future, who he wants to be with or pretty much who he wants to be, for that matter. Rather than actively partaking in how his life progresses, Bryce allows others to make decisions on his behalf, and with his crew not being exactly responsible or rational in nature, the outcome of his endeavours don't necessarily always fall in his favour. He tries pleasing everyone, dealing prescription medication to his peers to satisfy their appetites and remain in their good books. The only positive element in his life is his friendship with Jaycee, who happens to have deep romantic feelings for Bryce, but he's too hung up on his ex, Paige, to give Jaycee the time of day. With the pressure to feel accepted mounting high, Bryce finds himself in a position where he must decide if being what he thinks everyone wants him to be is worth risking the chance for him to be the person he's always dreamt he could be. 


I liked that I felt immersed in the time period of the story. It had a Breakfast Club vibe. Honestly, at times, it felt as though I had been transported into a John Hughes movie in the sense that Hughes had a way of making you feel very present with the characters even though you may be watching a movie that was filmed twenty or so years ago. The style of writing in Dream Kids, the language and the description of the setting all made me feel as though I had been transported into the world of the story, and that made me feel as though I was right there with the characters.

I don't usually jot down lines from books, but I had to in this case. Two lines really stood out for me. The first one was "Maybe the only perfect things are memories". The second line was "People who didn’t know better called us Dream Kids, but we were misfits. We were bad kids, but we were survivors". Sometimes, there were some profound moments in the book that really swept me away.

I think the depiction of the privileged lifestyle of these kids and how they use it to their advantage to avoid taking responsibility for their actions was well portrayed. It felt authentic. Bryce is well aware of the social hierarchy of his world and knows that in order to make it through school he has to pick a side or risk being ostracised. He's fully aware that his friends are bullies and aren't the best role models, hence the reason he keeps Jaycee, the scholarship kid, close by to keep him from spiralling too far. Even Jaycee experiences the pressures of being the poor kid and the need of wanting to be accepted by the popular rich kids, who engage with her because of her friendship with Bryce. In the age of social media, the depiction of peer pressure is ripe in Dream kids, and it does well in portraying the message of how dangerous things can get when the pressure piles on.

The source of the Dream Kids' strength is their wealth. It provides them with the ability to get whatever they want. But it's also the source of their problems, because when people are of the impression that you have everything you need, there's a possibility that they may also be of the impression that there is nothing they can offer you. When Jaycee finds herself in this predicament with Bryce, she realises just how dangerous it can be to be the poor kid among the rich and the popular.

Bryce is a rich kid who lacks the motivation to take charge of his life. I like that he's aware of this. He wants to be better, to do better, to reprimand his friend, Tyler, for being a bully, but he's afraid to take the leap because he doesn't know another way of being accepted. He's terrified of the idea of being an outcast. He's never been able to think for himself, to choose for himself. It's an alien concept. With Jaycee, there's a chance of him breaking free and surviving. The problem is he's not so sure the bond between them is strong enough to overcome adversities.


As much as I liked Bryce and Jaycee and their stories, I felt as though the book focused so much on their possible romance (will they, won't they scenario) that it made the story feel sluggish at times. It felt repetitive.  There are moments where the story drags and nothing happens in the way of progression. I was looking forward to being taken on a journey - a rollercoaster ride of sorts - however, the ambience of the story didn't change much from start to finish. I was looking for variations from the characters and more conflict, or just something that made Bryce feel more active instead of feeling as though he was just lingering on the sidelines, waiting for something to happen.

Some of the characters were underdeveloped, which rendered them as nothing more than clich├ęs. I couldn't understand Bryce's obsession with Paige. She despised him for most of the book. They barely interacted, and when they did it was with derision, on her part. There were no selling points to her character that could explain Bryce's obsession, so I wasn't truly convinced about his feelings towards her. Yes, she's his ex, so there is a connection there, but is that all there is to it? He wants to be with her because he was with her before? It's just familiarity? Paige's portrayal as a rich, self-obsessed person of a fickle disposition didn't justify Bryce's fixation.

Where were the other versions of rich kids? I understand that the rich kids were horrid because they could do whatever they wanted and get away with it, but it would have been nice to witness a counterbalance so as to add variation as it just appeared that all rich kids were simply degenerates without a cause. There were indications that these rich kids weren't as happy with their lives as they wanted people to think, but as we don't get to see them in their habitats (outside the parties), we're not able to empathise or sympathise with their situations, except in the case of Bryce and Jaycee.

Given these kids were part of Bryce's crew, it would have been nice to have a more developed set of the characters to work with, so the portrayal of them wasn't so one dimensional.

The climax wasn't as climactic as I had hope it would be. I liked the outcome, I just didn't feel as excited as I had anticipated to feel. I don't think the risk was big enough. It didn't feel as though Bryce had much to lose. It felt as though no matter what the outcome, he would be okay either way. There was a slight change in his character from start to finish. He was certainly more outspoken by the end, but it just didn't feel as though he had shifted from where he started. I feel Bryce didn't quite reach the summit in his journey, and I feel it's because that summit had yet to be established. Bryce was balancing on the edge of an uncompromising reality, and while it might appear as though he took the plunge in the end, I wasn't convinced that he did take the plunge. The reality he sought was obscure.


Overall, I enjoyed Dream Kids. There were some profound moments, however, the story dragged too much and deliberated a little too long on Bryce's obsession and indecisions for my liking. Having said that, I think the writer's ability to draw you into the world of the story will win readers over. I definitely think it's worth a read.


Source: BookSirens

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