Strange the Dreamer

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Strange the Dreamer Book Poster Image
Fiercely imaginative, lushly told fantasy for mature teens.

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 4 reviews

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

Educational Value

Reminder of the power of story and fairy tales and why they're worth exploring at any age. Lazlo discovers another culture and language through the stories he finds. The mythology here shows vengeful, powerful gods, not unlike some stories of Greek and Nordic gods. Readers can explore human-god relations in various traditions and compare them to what they see here.

Positive Messages

Much talk of the nature and cause of discrimination and hate. Here discrimination is fought through the shared experience of story and an openness to immerse oneself in a new culture and new experiences. In Chapter 26, Sarai realizes she lost her capacity to hate when she learned of others' suffering and found her compassion again.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lazlo Strange shows some pretty dramatic growth in this book. He's discounted as a librarian, not a scholar, who will probably spend his life undervalued there but finds a way to speak up for himself and is rewarded with quite an adventure. His choices throughout show his growing bravery and empowerment. Sarai laments her past choices to follow along with someone else's drive toward revenge and hate. When she chooses compassion over hate, she begins to assert that value.


Less than two decades before the story begins, girls just old enough to menstruate had been taken from their homes, raped, forced to have children, and then sent home again with their minds wiped of their memories. Also, much talk of babies slaughtered in a nursery after five adults are murdered. Two characters die in the main timeline of the story. One death from falling and the gory details of getting impaled on a fence. Another death through an explosion. Ghosts attack with knives and cause minor injuries. As a child, the main character is disciplined with switches and getting locked in a crypt overnight. He watches another boy beaten by his father.


Characters have sex, with brief mention of top-up nakedness and climax. Other characters kiss and dream of more. Talk that Sarai has witnessed much bedroom activity. Two women have a relationship and share a bed.


Versions of "damn" only.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Spirits are drunk on the last day of a journey. A man staggers around a street drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Strange the Dreamer, a 2018 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, is the first in a two-book fantasy series by the acclaimed author of Lips Touch Three Times and the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy. As in Laini Taylor's other books for teens, she doesn't shy away from mature subject matter. Here, there's talk of slaughtered babies and girls who, years before the story begins, had been abducted, raped, forced to have children, and returned home after their memories were erased. The main character is treated harshly as a young orphan; he's beaten with switches and sent to sleep in a crypt when he misbehaves. One character dies by falling and getting impaled by a fence. Sexual content is also mature. One couple has sex, with a few details of the experience described. The messages here will resonate with a more mature audience ready to contemplate the nature and cause of discrimination and hate. Main characters work toward compassion and understanding while others remain committed to violence.

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written byBlue2102 May 11, 2020
The plot seemed quite predictable, and i found myself skipping pages to finish it. It's quite well written, but it's a bit too cliché. Even though the... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old March 26, 2020

The best fantasy novel I've ever read!

Strange the Dreamer is a dense, luscious, and imaginative world, every fantasy lover should read it.

What's the story?

In STRANGE THE DREAMER, a boy named Lazlo Strange first gets his Dreamer nickname as an orphan in an abbey. He's caught too many times skipping out on his duties to play make-believe and often listens with rapt attention to stories from one of the bedridden, senile residents, Brother Cyrus. Brother Cyrus' stories introduce Lazlo to a magical and mysterious city called Weep on the other side of a vast desert. For years traders came from Weep with tales of its magnificence that foreigners were never permitted to see -- they were killed on sight. Then, 200 years ago, the traders just stopped coming. Lazlo is captivated by the stories, and when he's sent to the city's library on an errand and sees all the books he hopes hold more amazing mysteries, he begs to stay. As a junior librarian, Lazlo discovers a dusty basement full of works the other librarians discard as simple fairy tales. He knows better and begins to translate them and learn a new language. It's a language he hears spoken for the first time when foreign soldiers march into town begging for help. They're looking for the best scientists and scholars to accompany them back across the desert to Weep on a secret assignment. As a simple junior librarian, Lazlo knows he doesn't qualify, but it's his dream and he'll do anything to get there.

Is it any good?

Here's every fantasy lover's dream: a fiercely imaginative, lushly told story with fantastic and complex characters full of yearning. The biggest success of many in Strange the Dreamer is how palpable main character Lazlo Strange's yearning is -- for knowledge, for adventure, for connection, for a foreign land he has never really seen. His yearning is so palpable that when he works up the courage to make his dreams a reality, to find a way to visit the fabled city of Weep, you can't help but cheer out loud. (Maybe don't read that part in public if you embarrass easily.)

From there the story is still full of surprises we won't spoil here. Taylor even keeps the foreign adventurers in the dark about what they will find on the other side of the desert and why they are summoned to help the city of Weep. It builds some fabulous tension and is far from the last surprise of this story. As readers reach the twisty ending, they'll be full of yearning for the sequel.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about discrimination in Strange the Dreamer. What causes people to hate?

  • How does Lazlo change on the journey?

  • Will you read the sequel? What must be overcome for a peaceful resolution? Do you think it's possible?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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