Spolier Free Summary: Dream Student by J.J. DiBenedetto is a YA Romance Paranormal mystery novel about Sara Barnes, a med-school student who’s having strange dreams, some of which are horrifying.
She doesn’t think too much about them until she meets the boy of these dreams. Realizing he’s real, she pursues (aggressively) a relationship with him. However, if her romantic dreams are real, her horror comes back when she realizes her nightmares were also real. She chooses to use her dreams to learn who the killer is and help bring him to justice.
DISCLAIMER: J.J. is a friend and fellow author. I met him at AwesomeCon and he became a fan of my work. I think well of him, and bought his book because of the wonderful support and kindness he showed me. I assure you, the only “hookup” I gave was to buy the book based on that friendship. My opinions on his book are based solely on his book.
Character: This is hot and cold for me. I think Sara’s a good character. Most who know me know I’m really not a fan of romance, and YA romance only amplifies that distaste. So if I read a book like that and don’t want to throw the main character out of a window, you can trust that fans of the genre will love it. The problems I have with the characters in this book are simply common problems I have with any character in a romance novel, or a YA novel; and when it’s a YA romance, well, God help me. I expected to have to slog through this book, but Dibenedetto’s Sara Barnes is a character worthy of a story. Sure, she jumps into some decisions that I sometimes struggle with, but I consider those hazard of the genre more than failures of the author.
Exposition: This was where I felt there was the most room for improvement. Here, I understand that 1st person narrative inherently feels like a ball of exposition, but I noticed a few times where the MC seemed to be explaining herself to convince the reader to go with the plot more than provide scope or context. This wasn’t a problem through the whole book, but it got real heavy in the middle, and that part did indeed slow me down. Characters do this in 1st person, and if done with the right emotional tone and timing, readers consider it more snark, wit, or contemplation than justification. Here, I felt that happened, and it happened more than I feel it should. The consequence was that it slowed the middle of the book for me. This also happened at a point when I felt the story sort of veered off course. Once it got back on course, I was enthralled by the mystery and the clues.
World building: This, alternatively, was a strength of the story. Whenever one deals with dreams in fiction (and I’d know a bit about this) it takes a lot of world building and planning. DiBenedetto does a solid job hiding clues in the dreams. He also uses those sequences and that world to a range of emotional results. In this, it felt a bit like the show Medium, which I enjoyed.
Dialogue: This again seemed to fit in line with typical YA themes. I felt the interactions between some characters (especially Sara’s friend) could have had a lot more conflict, giving the story depth, but typically in these books (at least the small sample I’ve read), the side characters tend to just roll with whatever insanity the main character heads for, which takes potential tension from the story. Yes, DiBenedetto did this, but not to a more offensive degree than any other YA book I’ve read does.
Description: This was average if not more effective in the dream sequences. J.J. uses detail to highlight clues, and I found myself paying more attention to description than I normally do (which is not at all). He doesn’t beat you to death with description. He’s also more merciful with some of the scenes one would commonly see in a mystery novel, and I appreciated that. However, I understand others would not like that. I’m more of a fan of cut aways mid swing than I am watching the blades trace lines of blood along a subject. I advise readers of this review to take note and decide which person you are to determine what you’ll think of this technique.
Overall: This book had a satisfying ending to a pretty cute paranormal romance mystery. Sara was the most interesting part. Like any good 1st person story, she’s the reason I kept turing the pages in a book that falls outside my genre preferences. I’d recommend this to this genre’s readers and fans of the TV show Medium.
Thanks for reading,