ARC Review: Sleeper by MacKenzie Cadenhead

SleeperSleeper by MacKenzie Cadenhead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As if surviving high school wasn’t hard enough, Sarah Reyes suffers from REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, a parasomnia that causes her to physically act out her dreams. When she almost snaps her friend’s neck at a sleepover, Sarah and her nocturnal habits are thrust into the spotlight and she becomes a social pariah, complete with public humiliation.

When an experimental drug comes onto the market that promises nighttime normalcy, Sarah agrees to participate in the trial. At first, she seems to be cured. Then the side effects kick in. Why does a guy from her nightmare show up at school? Are the eerily similar dreams she’s sharing with her classmates’ coincidence or of her making? Is she losing her mind or does this drug offer way more than sleep?

Sleeper, or Adventures in Experimental Drug Trials as I like to call it, is a thriller with paranormal elements. Sarah has a sleeping disorder that causes her to act out her dreams, which can be preeeetttty dangerous for people around her. When an experimental drug is suggested by the clinic, she goes for it, and it seems to work, with the small caveat that now she is able to move in and out of a collective dream consciousness with ease. She meets another such dreamer, Wes, who has been through some tough times due to the illness, just like her. Together, they get high on their new relationship and the power associated with their drugs.

Now, the plot tackles the aspect of bullying head-on, with the story resting on a high-school vendetta gone wrong. Sarah is being bullied by her former best friend for attempting to strangle the latter during an episode, and when the opportunity presents to exact her vengeance, she doesn’t wait for the dish to get cold. She and Wes jump into people’s dreams and their bodies and violate their privacy and well, bodies. Sarah grows more and more hesitant as the plot furthers, because Wes starts to up the stakes every time and she realizes that she is a toxic relationship.

What the story doesn’t completely address, though is sexual and physical assault. Sarah is almost raped by an ex, but she doesn’t ever do anything about it. She instead focuses her attentions on the ‘mean girl’ who spread rumors about her. Sarah and Wes, while in other’s bodies, do things that would technically be considered ‘roofied’ sexual assault. The plot does address the violation of a person’s autonomy but not that. Also, the thing between them was nearly insta-lovey, with them declaring destiny and stuff within like a week of knowing each other *eyeroll*. And it is kinda weird to imagine all this escalation taking place in a matter of a couple of weeks!

The dream consciousness thing was an interesting aspect but isn’t explored much, with regards to world-building. And the burners aren’t exactly explained. Also, if they could enter the dreams of other dreamers without the drug, why couldn’t they do it before (with the exception of one instance)? The plot also leaves the story on a open ending, which I am kind of conflicted about. How much of it was the influence of the drug, and how much was their true nature, and does she still empathize with him?

In conclusion, an interesting concept of a book but it should have been executed better.

Content warning: drug abuse, sexual assault, abusive relationships

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Sourcebooks Fire, via Netgalley.

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