The Nightmare Thief, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Nightmare Thief, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Thought-provoking story examines mind control, blackmail.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Kids who know French will be cracking up over the insults of Henri the parrot, which will probably send a lot of others racing for their French/English dictionary or online, as they aren't always translated for you. "You dance like a hippo," etc. There's also a lot of detail about dance, both tap, which Maren loves, and ballet, which she doesn't.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of family, friendship, and accepting responsibility when you've done something wrong and fixing things as best you can. When you give people you think have wronged you a chance to explain themselves, you often understand them better and can patch things up. People's cruelty to a child who doesn't fit in has dire consequences for them years later. 

Positive Role Models

There's a lot of sneaking around and rule-breaking almost from the beginning, mostly by Maren as she tries desperately to help her sister, violates her grandmother's most sacred principle, and is immediately pounced on by the villain, who soon has her stealing nightmares from her grandmother's safe and sitting by helplessly as they wreak havoc on the emotions of her neighbors. But support from a friend gives her the courage to find ways to defy villainous Ms. Malo, take the consequences, and make things right. As it turns out, Ms. Malo has been working her evil plan for a while now -- and it all goes back to her being bullied as a child. Maren's estranged former BFF Amos proves himself a true, courageous friend, even when suffering from an overdose of nightmares. Maren's grandmother, the best dream-maker ever and a wise teacher, has strong ethics about handling her wares -- for example, she forbids giving dreams to others without their consent.


Dosing people with dream-inducing substances without their consent is done for both good and evil intentions. Maren's older sister is in a coma due to a car accident. There are many creepy scenes in tunnels, decaying buildings, locked rooms, etc., and the characters are held prisoner and dosed with dreams against their will. Maren is allergic to bee stings and finds Ms. Malo's way with scary insects especially terrifying. Ms. Malo blackmails her victims by threatening to expose some secret they think would ruin their lives if revealed.


One "fart."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

While there are no real-world drugs, the entire premise of The Nightmare Thief involves people with magical powers concocting sachets to be placed under the tongue at bedtime to induce a particular dream, good or bad -- or a dream that just erases everything for a while. Or powder that lets someone else manipulate your mind. Ms. Malo doses people all over town with nightmares. Maren doses her comatose sister with a sweet dream. A plan goes badly awry when the protagonists absorb nightmares through their skin and have to complete their tasks while battling hallucinations and telling themselves "this isn't real!"

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Nicole Lesperance's The Nightmare Thief, the first of a two-volume series, revolves around the ability to control people's minds by affecting their dreams. It's the story of middle-school kid Maren Partridge, youngest member of a family whose business and magical specialty is crafting on-demand dreams in the form of sachets to be taken at bedtime. Their strict rule is to not give people dreams (good or bad) without their consent -- and most of the story's troubles and ethical dilemmas come about when characters break that rule. Catching Maren dosing her comatose sister with a pleasant dream, the villain Ms. Malo makes her steal nightmares from her grandmother's safe and proceeds to dose her unhappy victims all over town. Havoc-wreaking consequences are many. The exciting story also includes plenty of creepy scenes in decaying theaters, locked rooms, scary neighborhoods in the dead of night, and characters being held prisoner and dosed with dreams against their will. Family, friendship, and forgiveness carry the day, with life lessons about bullying, empathy, and being able to change your mind. And occasional assistance from a parrot with a limitless supply of insults in French.

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What's the story?

Tween Maren Partridge, soon to become THE NIGHTMARE THIEF, is the youngest member of a family whose magical specialty and thriving business is dreams. Whether you want a sweet dream or a terrifying nightmare, their shop has what you need; just slip the sachet under your tongue at bedtime and the dream is yours. Maren's grandmother runs a tight ship: Anyone who gives a dream to another person without their consent is banned for life. Which would normally be fine with Maren, but now her older sister, Hallie, is in a coma following a car accident for which Maren blames herself, and, desperate to make Hallie wake up before she's taken to a long-term care facility, Maren concocts a sweet dream and slips it to her. Unfortunately, a creepy woman who's been trying to buy more than her quota of nightmares at the shop saw the whole thing. And Maren has to choose between letting the truth come out (and being banned from her beloved shop for life) or keeping the villain supplied with nightmares. 

Is it any good?

Nicole Lesperance spins a lively, relatable, thought-provoking tale of a family whose business is concocting dreams, and the ethical dilemmas when people seek to use their wares for evil purposes. The tween hero who becomes The Nightmare Thief breaks an important rule for what she considers a very good reason, and soon finds herself blackmailed, trapped, imprisoned -- and in some creepy buildings, dank neighborhoods, and other situations best avoided. But thanks to her own resourcefulness and unexpected support from a friend, there may be a way out. There’s plenty of suspense, a skillful unveiling of hidden connections, and a bad-tempered, French-speaking parrot with a large repertoire of insults. 


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the idea of being able to control people's dreams and their behavior, as is central to the plot of The Nightmare Thief. Do you think there are some situations where it would be ethically appropriate to use this kind of mind control on others, or do you think it's unacceptable? Why?

  • Do you think kids who engage in bullying can change their ways? What might make them do so?

  • Has anyone ever tried to make you do bad things? Did you find a way to escape? How?

Book details

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