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Dealing in Dreams

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Dealing in Dreams Book Poster Image
Violence and loyalty explored in tedious dystopian tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Many Spanish words and phrases. Insight into how street gangs and totalitarian governments operate.

Positive Messages

Loyalty is a valuable trait, unless it comes at the expense of your own well being. Most issues in life are not black and white. You have more power to make change that you realize. Labeling yourself and others is emotionally and intellectually limiting. Communities thrive when people work together and not against each other. The ability to forgive is important to a happy life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nalah is strong leader with a lot of empathy, even though she shuts down her emotional side to look tough. The gang members are smart, loyal, and intuitive. Nalah meets many people who are kind and caring, even though she thinks those qualities make them seem weak.

Violence

The story is about a violent society and how violence can be used to keep citizens in line. There are many violent scenes, including major gladiator-like public spectacles between gangs, taser use, knifings, heads getting bashed in, vicious beatings, and an attempted drowning. For much of the book, Nalah thinks violence is the solution to most problems.

Sex

Some kissing. Desirability and attraction figure into the story. Book is set in a female-dominated society, where men are treated as worthless or as sexual objects, working and dancing in brothel-like clubs for female pleasure.

Language

Infrequent swearing includes, "hell," "damn," "ass," "pissed," "s--t," and "Jesus."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The gang goes to a club a few times to drink. An opiate-type drug called "sueño" is used heavily by many citizens, but it is not viewed favorably by Nalah and her gang.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dealing in Dreams is a futuristic dystopian novel about the leader of a girl gang on a dangerous mission for her government. Nalah and her crew police the streets of Mega City, hoping to finally earn the privilege of living in Mega Towers, the entrance to which is tightly controlled by city's leader, Déesse. The story explores loyalty, trust, what makes up a family, gender politics, and totalitarian rule. Expect lots of violence, as it's a central theme in the story. Author Lilliam Rivera (The Education of Margot Sanchez) explores government violence against its own people, citizens pitted against each other, and violent hatred of foreigners. There are major gladiator-like public spectacles between gangs, taser use, knifings, heads getting bashed in, vicious beatings, and an attempted drowning. The Nalah's gang drinks at  a club a few times, and characters swear a little (including "hell" and "s--t"). An opiate-type drug features in the plot, but it's not represented favorably. Though the story's set in a fictional world, the characters are all Latinx and use many Spanish words and phrases.

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What's the story?

DEALING IN DREAMS is set in a futuristic, dystopian world where girl gangs keep order on the streets and fight other gangs to stay in the good graces of the city's ruler. Mega City is a female-run society with a strict social order: The elite live in Mega Towers at the invitation of ruler Déesse; the toilers work in factories and live in garbage dumps or below ground; men are second class citizens, the lowest of the low; and teen girl gangs anointed by Déesse rule the streets and keep order with harsh violence. Nalah and her gang, Las Mal Criadas, are the top crew, and while they love their power and status, they have their eyes on an invitation to live in Mega Towers in hopes of finally leaving the streets behind them. Nalah will do anything to protect her crew and serve her leader. When she accepts a dangerous mission into enemy territory, Nalah's world view and ethics are challenged in some surprising ways. Questions of loyalty, duty, family, personal ethics, and political maneuvering tumble together during the gang's journey, leaving Nalah wondering whom she can trust and what her future holds.

Is it any good?

This violent, action-packed book carries some important messages about loyalty, identity, and politics, but it can be tiresome in its telling. At its best, Dealing in Dreams shows the dangers of blind loyalty and unquestioning political beliefs. While the violence is over the top at times, author Lilliam Rivera effectively highlights the corrosive nature of hatred and violence and shows that we should be wary of those in power who stir up these feelings among their people. The story's told through gang leader Nalah's eyes. Anger is fundamental to who she is as a person, and she doesn't know how to exist without it fueling her thoughts and actions. She does have her doubts and fears, but she forces herself to stay strong and resolute. These qualities make her a good leader, in that she doesn't waver and loyalty to her gang is a top priority. And even though her inner struggle is interesting, her stubbornness and refusal to see reality get increasingly exasperating as the story goes on. Her thoughts are repetitive and her character takes too long to develop. Nalah's character arc shows readers the danger of shutting down your emotions, but it makes for frustrating reading. The gang's mission into enemy territory offers some excitement and intrigue, but the story's ending doesn’t offer enough of a resolution.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • There's a lot of violence in Dealing in Dreams. What point do you think the author was trying to make about people who live in violent societies? Many dystopian novels and movies are set in violent, cruel worlds. Why do you think this is a common vision of the future?

  • Loyalty is considered a good, desirable quality. Do you think there are times when fierce loyalty to someone or something can come at your own expense?

  • Have you ever let your anger get to the point that it colors everything in your life? In what ways do you think anger can hurt you?

  • What do you think of how Dealing in Dreams handles the dangers of being loyal to a country's leader vs. being loyal to its people and ethics?

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