by Cat Winters
To be published by Amulet Books
on October 14, 2014
Source: ARC from publisher for review
Synopsis from Goodreads: Olivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its girls to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud. These supernatural challenges only make Olivia more determined to speak her mind, and so she’s drawn into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist and his mysterious motives, all while secretly fighting for the rights of women.My take: Cat Winters' In the Shadow of Blackbirds was a favorite of mine from 2013, and a book that was nominated for the Morris award for debut YA fiction. So I was so very excited when The Cure for Dreaming showed up in the mail. While I didn't think that The Cure for Dreaming was quite as strong a book as In the Shadow of Blackbirds, I still found it to be a gripping and thought-provoking story.
While I'd say that In the Shadow of Blackbirds felt like historical fiction with a strong paranormal bent, I'd call The Cure for Dreaming something more like historical fiction with a touch of magical-realism. When the father of feisty Olivia Mead wants his daughter's feminist leanings stamped out, he calls on Henri Reverie, a handsome young stage mesmerist, to hypnotize her. It works -- she becomes a sort of walking parlor trick. At first she's able to see people's true natures, and then Henri re-hypnotizes her several times in other ways. There was something about the hypnosis that kept bothering me -- it always seemed a little creepy to me that Henri kept probing around in Olivia's mind.
Speaking of probing, the book also features Olivia's father, a sinister local dentist. Since his wife's progressive ideas led her to abandon their family, he's alarmed by Olivia's passion for the suffragist movement. The book also includes a love triangle of sorts that includes Olivia, Henri, and a local boy named Percy. Then, interwoven into that are details about early twentieth-century medicine. The word "mesmerism" comes from the name of an eighteenth-century doctor, Franz Anton Mesmer, who believed medical cures could be effected by tapping into magnetic powers.
But some aspects of the book felt a bit muddled to me. First, I'm not sure that the romance and the mesmerism were a great combination for me. I also didn't always understand what, if any, connections the author was trying to make between politics and mesmerism. Politics is a kind of mass mind control? Also, why was the strong-minded Olivia able to be hypnotized so easily? Not surprisingly, Henri turns out to be not what he seems, but to me, Olivia still seemed susceptible to manipulation to a degree that worried me -- and made the book's romance less than satisfying.
All in all, I did enjoy The Cure for Dreaming. Rich in historical detail, with a spirited heroine and with chapters interspersed with fascinating archival photos and art, this is a book that tackles a lot of interesting ideas.