I’m going to preface this review with two negative things, but don’t let them scare you off just yet.
Number one, I’ve read this whole series (I’ve read Books 1-3 twice, actually), and this book and the first half of Book 2 were great, but the paranormal stuff got really inconsistent after that.
Number two, I don’t consider this a spoiler but it’s something you don’t find out for sure until later in the series, so… *MILD SPOILER ALERT* the chronic illness turns out to be something paranormal, not a real chronic illness, and it’s disappointing when that happens because in real life disabilities don’t work like that. *END SPOILER ALERT*
But despite those two things, I do still recommend this series because what I disliked about the later books may not be something you dislike (some people gave them 5 stars, so clearly some people loved them, and to be fair I still liked a lot about them) and because this is the best, most realistic portrayal of chronic illness that I’ve ever read, at least in terms of the emotional aspects, as well as how it affects your life and those around you. As someone with a chronic illness, albeit a different one than Bryn, I can tell you that the author nailed what it feels like, all those little things that would never even cross the mind of the average healthy person. It will make you realize and appreciate things you’ve taken for granted or even complained about. It was never exaggerated, Bryn was just a normal girl trying to have a normal life, but her illness was still a constant part of her, and the realism was what made it so powerful. And it doesn’t matter that this character had just one chronic illness out of the thousands that are out there because understanding one is better than understanding none, and there are some thoughts, emotions, disappointments, strengths, and experiences that carry over among many different illnesses.
That was one of the worst things about being sick. Someone was always waiting on you, which meant disappointing people was inevitable.
Because the truth was I was tired. I was tired of fighting but more importantly I was tired of losing, of being disappointed.
But maybe I could give myself something too—permission to keep trying. Even when it felt like it was all for nothing. Even if trying was all I ever did, I shouldn’t stop.
If I had to pull an all-nighter studying for a test or too many looming deadlines had me pulling out my hair, I wouldn’t end up with just some trendy coffee addiction. I’d end up in a mini-coma, face down in the middle of the studio or on the floor of the community showers.
Dani’s mild eating disorder was definitely the most annoying thing about her. One Christmas break I’d gained ten pounds and went up two cup-sizes—a post episode binge that finally made me look normal, like a woman. I would have killed to hold onto that version of me and all Dani did was count calories and complain about her non-existent cellulite. She was lucky. Most people were, they just couldn’t see it.
My lip trembled, my throat raw, and I started to cry. But not because I didn’t look perfect. But because I looked healthy and because I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay that way.
But the portrayal of chronic illness wasn’t the only good thing about this book. Everything in it was well-written and (aside from the paranormal aspects, obviously) realistic—Bryn’s imperfect and sometimes strained but still loving family, her strong and solid friendships, the general teenager/high school-ness of some of the characters and situations, the manipulative words and actions of Bryn’s on-again-off-again ex-boyfriend and the way he always knew exactly what to say to reel her back in when she tried to cut the ties between them, the lingering feelings she still had for him and the difficulty she had trying not to get reeled back in, the pain she felt over her father abandoning her when she was a kid, Roman’s terror and confusion at waking up in some strange world where no one but Bryn existed and worrying if maybe he really was just a figment of her imagination…
I also liked the writing. It was pretty without being overly frilly or metaphorical. And the plot was good too, slow-paced but never lagging. The real life parts were good because of their realism and relatability, Bryn’s relationships with her friends, family, and ex, and her experiences with her illness, but the dream state parts were interesting and had a kind of intimacy to them since it was just her and Roman, all alone, getting to know each other, trying to figure out who he was. And it was all kind of mysterious. I also enjoyed both Bryn’s and Roman’s POVs.
I also want to mention, in case this affects anyone’s decision, that the series gets significantly darker as it goes on.
So overall, this particular book in the series was realistic but still mysterious with a hint of paranormal, pretty writing, and a fantastic portrayal of chronic illness!
Anyone who likes dark paranormal fantasy and character development and doesn't mind changing paranormal aspects and an open-for-interpretation ending. Anyone who wants to read an amazingly realistic portrayal of chronic illness (in Books 1 and 2).
More Books in the Series:
Bryn Reyes is a real life sleeping beauty. Afflicted with Klein-Levin Syndrome, she suffers episodes of prolonged sleep that steal weeks, and sometimes even months, from her life. But unlike most KLS patients, she doesn’t spend each episode in a catatonic state or wake up with no recollection of the time she’s missed. Instead, Bryn spends half her life in an alternate reality made up of her memories. For Bryn, the past is a place, until one day a boy she’s never met before washes up on the illusory beach of her dreams with no memory of who he is.
But the appearance of this strange boy isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Bryn’s symptoms are worsening, her body weakening as she’s plagued by hallucinations even while awake. Her only hope of finding a cure is to undergo experimental treatment created by a German specialist. But when Dr. Banz reveals that he knows more about her strange symptoms than he originally let on, Bryn learns that the boy in her head might actually be the key to understanding what’s happening to her, and worse, that if she doesn’t find out his identity before it’s too late, they both may not survive.