Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: INSOMNIA by J.R. Johansson

It’s been four years since I slept, and I suspect it is killing me.

Instead of sleeping, Parker Chipp enters the dream of the last person he’s had eye contact with. He spends his nights crushed by other people’s fear and pain, by their disturbing secrets—and Parker can never have dreams of his own. The severe exhaustion is crippling him. If nothing changes, Parker could soon be facing psychosis and even death.

Then he meets Mia. Her dreams, calm and beautifully uncomplicated, allow him blissful rest that is utterly addictive. Parker starts going to bizarre lengths to catch Mia’s eye every day. Everyone at school thinks he’s gone over the edge, even his best friend. And when Mia is threatened by a true stalker, everyone thinks it’s Parker.

Suffering blackouts, Parker begins to wonder if he is turning into someone dangerous. What if the monster stalking Mia is him after all?

I finished this book over twenty-four hours before writing this review, and I'm still flailing. I've been stuck in a DNF rut over my past few reads. Nothing was grabbing me. The books I was reading weren't bad, but I was bored. But from the moment I picked up Insomnia, I was stuck to the page. The voice was authentic and natural, the writing flowed smoothly, and I was interested in the setup from the first paragraph.

Parker is one messed-up dude. He doesn't sleep - hasn't slept, in fact, for four years. While he is physically asleep, his mind enters the dream of the last person he made eye contact with the day before. Though such powers might, in theory, seem like an awesome trick, Parker is dying. Literally. His mind is unable to rest. It's breaking down, hurried along by the horrors he witnesses when he closes his eyes.

Parker's dream world is nuts. From what he can tell, dreams are made up of multiple layers of the subconscious. Different thoughts, feelings, emotions, desires, scenes, and memories stack on top of each other to create the dreams we remember (and some of the ones we don't). The things Parker learns about how people really are in their dreams versus how they portray themselves to others is fascinating! When Parker enters a dream, he enters the ones closest to reality, but the other layers seethe just beneath the surface, battering him and making it impossible for him to rest. The worst dreams are the ones built out of memories. Those have the sharpest emotions, the most vivid scenes. They're also the dreams where Parker sees the worst things, such as the murder at the beginning of the book.

When the book opens, Parker is at the end of his resources. He is literally dying. Unable to rest and form connections, his brain has begun to break down. There's no way to warn his mom (who thinks he's on drugs) or his best friends, Finn and Finn's little sister Addie. As someone who greatly values her sleep, I ached for Parker. Being sleep deprived is no joke. My heart broke every time he mentioned not making it to graduation or fretting over what his mother would do once he was gone.

I was so invested in this boy from the beginning. I felt for him and his mom, who was still reeling from her husband's disappearance four years prior. I also adored his friends. Finn is a complete joy. He's funny and supportive, reminding me a lot of Howie from I Hunt Killer. The main difference between Finn and Howie, however, is that Finn never once annoyed me. His little sister Addie also had me on her side from her first appearance. She's pretty, funny, independent, and clearly crushing on Parker, though not in a cloying way. I have never before taken to a female love interest as quickly as I took to Addie.

However, even if Parker were willing to date his best friend's sister (and, you know, not currently dying), his attention is irretrievably captured by the new girl in school, Mia. Mia's dreams are unlike any other. They're simple, peaceful, and contain only one layer, allowing Parker to truly sleep for the first time in years. But he can only enter her dreams if she is the last person he looks in the eye before falling asleep, so he goes to noticeable lengths to ensure his own pleasant dreams at her expense.

May I pause here and say that while I wasn't completely sold on Mia as a character (more on that in a minute), I LOVED her anti-Bella stance when it came to Parker. Rather than be intrigued by him, she found his hovering ways to be creepy and told him that his attentions were unwelcome multiple times. You go, girl! Hovering, possessive creepiness is not okay!

Unfortunately, Parker doesn't listen. Mia begins acting strangely, avoiding Parker and even dissolving into hysterics when he appears outside her work after closing one night. Through Addie, Parker learns that Mia has attracted a particularly vicious stalker... and she thinks that that stalker is Parker. Worse, Parker can't say that she's wrong. He wakes to find his window open, items are moved in his sleep, and he begins to see people who may not - cannot - be real.

Shivers, you guys, shivers. I haven't been this tense over a book in a long time. The psychological aspect was simultaneously fascinating and terrifying. I truly couldn't tell whether Parker and his "Darkness" were responsible for Mia's terror or not. The story is told through Parker, and his tenuous grasp on reality makes him a most unreliable narrator.

I only have two gripes with this story. First, several characters make truly nonsensical choices. For instance, when Mia receives intimate, possessive death threats from her stalker, does she tell the police? No. Though she's pretty sure she knows who's sending them does she offer up this information to an authority figure or request a restraining order? No! Or when Parker notices a creepy and possibly imaginary dude he nicknames Blind Skull following him around, does he use his gift/curse to get inside the guy's head? No! It never even comes up!

Second, I'm still fuming over the raw deal Mia receives. That poor girl just can't catch a break. She's betrayed one way or another by pretty much every character in the book. And though things end with the close of the book, I never felt like Mia received any justice. Baaaad things happen, but there was very little closure and very little healing made available for her. In the end, she felt more like a plot device than anything, which is not okay.

All in all, though, I still come down on the side of fangirling. Make no mistake, Insomnia falls firmly in the category of Mature YA. It is a DARK book. (Word to the wise: When a book is titled Insomnia, involves dreams, and has a creepy shattered face on the cover, reading it before sleeping is not the best idea.) But it is also a well-written, thrilling, utterly suspenseful chillfest that I gobbled down in less than twenty-four hours. Go forth and gobble!

Favorite (Non-Spoilery) Quote:
"I had a nightmare a few times last year. I thought about telling you but I never did. It started out on an island, tell me what happened."

"I know I saw that one." I closed my eyes and tried hard to remember the details. "The island was deserted. I don't know how you got there, but there was this cruise ship that picked you up and it was haunted. A bunch of undead freaks turned you into one of them and made you entertain them."

I stopped there because I didn't want to embarrass him. It had been the creepiest rendition of "Copa Cabana" I'd ever seen.
Points Added For: The psychological suspense, the fascinating premise, a short but powerful moment illustrating the timely subject of rape and how a lack of a "no" doesn't mean "yes," FINN, wrapping things up nicely but still leaving me excited for a sequel, Parker's mom. (I just liked her, okay?)

Points Subtracted For: Brilliant flashes of stupidity, Mia's treatment.

Good For Fans Of: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, psychological thrillers.

Notes For Parents: Murder, molestation, light language, talk/impending threat of rape (no actual rape), violence, domestic abuse.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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