Charles de Lint,
The Dreaming Place
(Atheneum, 1990; Firebird, 2002)

I think it's safe to say that Charles de Lint is the master of urban fantasy, a true groundbreaker in the field. With almost 50 novels behind him, he continues to take new strides in the contemporary fantasy field. While The Dreaming Place is actually not a new novel (the original Atheneum edition, with illustrations by Brian Froud, is long out of print), it helps introduce younger readers to his style of work without straying far from the content and themes of his other novels.

Nina Caraballo seems like any ordinary teenage girl, caught in the midst of growing up with all the struggles and conflicts such a journey involves. But Nina has other problems, too -- one of which is her cousin Ash, who recently moved in with Nina after her mother's death. To say that Nina and Ash don't get along is an understatement. But that's not the worst of Nina's problems. Much worse is the presence that stalks her dreams, dreams in which she's trapped in the body of an animal with no way to get out. And Nina absolutely sure that Ash, with her interest in witchcraft, is responsible for those nightly terrors.

Things take a turn for the worse when Nina is pulled into the otherworld. With the help of Cassie and Bones (two familiar characters from de Lint's Newford novels), Ash discovers that it's her own pain and anger that has pulled this spirit into our world and set it on Nina's trail. Now she must undertake her own journey into the otherworld -- both to rescue Nina and to face the facts of her own life. Will she be able to let go of past hurts and move on?

Once again de Lint proves his ability to create engaging characters, this time focusing on young adults. He skillfully weaves mythology and folklore with believable conflicts, and continues to explore the theme of looking beyond yourself to help others. Nina and Ash's struggles are realistic ones that young adults can identify with; the setting of the otherworld serves to reinforce the inner landscape of their thoughts and feelings.

The Dreaming Place is an excellent gateway for younger readers to enter de Lint's world, but readers of all ages will find themselves enjoying this story. Firebird has also reprinted de Lint's Riddle of the Wren, another novel that has been long out of print, as well as several other excellent young adult novels (including three novels by Nancy Springer and one by Laurel Winter that readers shouldn't miss). If you're interested in more of de Lint's work for younger audiences, check out Waifs & Strays, a collection of short stories set in Newford and other environs.

- Rambles
written by Audrey Clark
published 11 January 2003

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