The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters
Published: October 14, 2014, Amulet Books
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction, Paranormal
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Olivia Mead’s life in 1900 Oregon is slowly but inexorably undergoing a sort of social turmoil. A number of states have already granted women the right to vote, and, although a recent vote again repudiated their hopes for suffrage, the fact that the presidential election is upcoming and women from other states have equal rights has kept the campaign going strong. Livie is interested in the efforts, but doesn’t necessarily consider herself to be a full-blown suffragist.
That all changes when her father, after hearing how easily she was hypnotized at a local show, hires the hypnotist to transform her into the perfect domestic woman. But the hypnotist slightly alters her father’s request; instead of giving Livie the ability to see the world as her father and anti-suffragists think it should be, he tells her to see the world as it truly is. Now Livie has the ability to see the good and evil in people, and to see how the lack of women’s rights is causing her fellow females to literally fade away. Far from turning Livie into a model woman, her father’s wishes make Livie a rebel who is no longer content to allow things to remain the way they’ve always been.
I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book for a while now. How couldn’t I have been, after having had the opportunity to read Winters’ amazing debut, In the Shadow of Blackbirds. Once again, Winters demonstrates her impressive finesse in believably mixing historical fiction with the fantastical. Although I did not find The Cure for Dreaming quite as flawless as Winters’ debut, it remains a solid read.
The premise of The Cure for Dreaming is easily the best part of this novel. Having any protagonist be forced to see the world as it truly is would make for an interesting story, but situating that aspect during such a divisive period of history is all kinds of wonderful. The suffrage movement was most certainly influenced by a lack of clarity and resistance to change, and Livie’s visions helped give a new perspective of those matters.
The Cure for Dreaming is very much rooted in historical context, despite the paranormal aspects of Livie’s visions and Henri’s hypnotism. Little details from the type of toothpaste that Livie uses to the steps required into dressing make this story all the more believable, as do the epigraphs for each chapter from novels of the era. I found it a bit problematic that all people acting evilly looked like vampires, but it does make sense in the context of Livie’s obsession with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It makes me wonder if the novel is supposed to have influenced how Livie views evilness, and if evil would take other forms for other viewers.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of this novel was Livie’s relationship with Henri (Henry, really). It’s a romance and fast-moving, but there’s also something so wistful and sweet about it. While other men seek that Livie becomes less than who she is, Henry encourages her to be more and embrace her true self. More than that, this is a relationship rooted not in love, exactly, but in understanding and support.
Livie’s story spans less than a week. Whenever stories focus on major character development in such a short time period, there are going to be issues with believability. It can be argued that Livie is already a subconscious suffragist who needs an extra push to consciously admit it to herself, but this novel isn’t simply about Livie’s awakening; it also deals with her relationship with her father, her place in society, and her friendship with Henri Reverie, the hypnotist, among other things. It’s a lot of terrain to cover, but fortunately Winters writes convincingly enough.
I was not quite convinced that this is a nuanced enough story, however. People contemplating or engaging in bad acts become vampires in Livie’s eyes. Her father, who drove first her mother and then Livie away, is never seen as anything other than reprehensible. And neither is the first boy who tries to court Livie because he believes that she’s a proper, submissive woman. In fact, nearly all the men here are reprehensible and given little characterization, as are most of the anti-suffrage women. The messages that The Cure for Dreaming promotes with regard to women’s rights are positive and easy to embrace, but I can’t help but wonder if they come at the cost of a more nuanced story.
Despite my reservations, I still enjoyed this novel. It’s well written, well researched, and compelling. Livie is a likable, relatable character who strives to find herself, not even letting romance interfere with her personal growth. For that reason alone, this is worth reading. I look forward to reading whatever Winters writes next.
Rating: 3.5 stars