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Life Is But a Dream Hardcover – March 27, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“LIFE IS BUT A DREAM is a beautiful and brave and necessary book. There are scenes from that book that are so transporting, I know they will remain with me forever.” ―Lewis Buzbee, author of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop

“…a vividly and poetically described narrative….” ―Booklist

“...compelling...” ―Kirkus

“...a fast read with extensive dialogue and fantastic visual descriptions.” ―VOYA

“The depiction of going through life with a brain whose perceptions you can't trust is evocative and immediate, and the sharply observed character interactions will invest readers in Sabrina's plight.” ―BCCB

About the Author

Brian James is the author of several highly praised books for young adults, including Pure Sunshine; Tomorrow, Maybe; Dirty Liar, Zombie Blondes; and The Heights. He lives in Upstate New York.


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 - 18 years
  • Lexile Measure: 740L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312610041
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312610043
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,942,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Reid VINE VOICE on February 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The prosaic plot description currently hosted for this book doesn't even begin to do justice to it. There's nothing prosaic about it all. Told from the perspective of Sabrina, who is only just beginning to understand how she is different from others and why, it's a beautiful, deeply moving story. Well written, it flows effortlessly in spite of the complicated subject.

That doesn't mean it's an easy book. While it was an exciting and constantly engaging read, it isn't what I'd call a fun book. This is a pretty dark story, overall, and in many ways sadly realistic - we're not talking Benny & Joon (though that certainly had dark moments, too). There's not really laughter or many "warm cuddlies" here. There were parts where I was literally filled with dread for Sabrina, whose vulnerability is terrifying to observe. James deserves a lot of credit for making her fear and confusion come alive for readers, but organically, without slowing the story down.

This is a Young Adult novel, and while I am an adult (with an appreciation for the genre stretching back to before that was true), I think it will appeal to its audience. Emotionally, it speaks to the parts of readers that feel isolated and misunderstood, that are exploring the balance between conformity and individualism. It will also fire the imagination, as the world of schizophrenia is dramatically presented, and draw on the mind, with thought-provoking issues such as sexual exploitation of the mentally ill.
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Format: Hardcover
First Impressions: I've always been into stories about mental illnesses, so for me Life is But a Dream was a natural selection that I knew I needed to read. I studied schizophrenia a bit in college while I was taking my required psychology courses and I found the subject fascinating. I know, I'm a dork! But it really is interesting stuff. Plus, I like some of Brian James' other books he had written, so I was hoping for a good read.

First 50 Pages: This wasn't a terribly long book, so I'll try to keep my review short and sweet so I don't reveal too many spoilers. It is also by no means, a light and fluffy read. This book deals with some pretty hefty topics that leave you thinking for a while after you have finished. I felt immediately pulled into the story, even though I felt that the pace was a little slow when it comes to action and the sequence of events. Brian James's writing style is great as usual though, which made me want to keep reading. The main character, Sabrina, kept me hooked and I finished this book in just a few hours.

Characters & Plot: The plot centers around Sabrina, who is checked into a mental wellness center because she is different from other people and she sees everything around her with very different eyes. She doesn't think that there is anything wrong with her and neither does Alec, another patient at the center. When she first meets Alec, they bond over their differences and Alec even convinces Sabrina that the world is messed up and everyone but themselves needs to change and adjust, not them. Alec goes even further, with convincing Sabrina that she doesn't need to take her medication, because it will stump her creativity and will make her more "normal." Then things go from bad to worse, as Sabrina's illness becomes life-threatening.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book caught my interest from the song lyrics for "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" as well as my deep love of contemporary novels. By the time I picked this up, I had read Ultraviolet (review to come) and had high expectations for the writing and characterization (yes Ultraviolet is about a character with a neurological phenomenon while this is about a character with schizophrenia but both are about female teenagers placed involuntarily in mental facilities.

I have never really thought of myself as a reader who pays attention to the writing, preferring instead to focus on the plot and how the characters make me feel. But it is something I've been noticing and happily the writing in this was glorious and intense, capturing Sabrina's unique perspective on the world. I did have one problem which was the alternating between present in the center and flashbacks to the past. They were usually sudden and had me questioning if they were memories tinged with Sabrina's interpretation or complete fabrications; Sabrina is not an entirely reliable narrator.

But I do still think character is important so if you can't sympathize with her, then even the gorgeous writing probably won't be enough for you. I really felt for Sabrina, who mostly lives in her head and has been largely ostracized by her classmates. She has different priorities than their popularity-obsessed minds, looking outside of the narrow high school bubble. In particular there was one boy who treated her abominably without repercussion and certainly didn't help her healing.

Besides our main character Sabrina, there is also the mysterious Alec, who in some ways appears as an entitled rich jerk whose rich dad got him in a mental facilities instead of juvenile detention.
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