About the Book

Title: Dreamland Social Club
Published: 2011
Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Cover Story: Pitchfork Would Give It a 10
BFF Charm: Yay!
Talky Talk: A Magical Walk Along the Beach
Bonus Factors: Coney Island, Roller Coasters, Great Teachers, The Tami Taylor Award for Amazing Mothers
Relationship Status: Those Summer Niiiiiights

Cover Story: Pitchfork Would Give It a 10

The cover of this book looks a bit like an album cover, with its vibrant but slightly surreal quality and lurid colors. And I’m sure that Pitchfork wouldn’t actually give this cover (if it were an album cover) a 10, because the writers of Pitchfork hate joy.

But I love this cover. It manages to completely convey the feeling of this book; a whirly tumble of amusement park attractions, but just a little broken down, a little dodgy, with our mermaid Jane always just on the outside of things, looking in. This cover may not scream This Book Is Serious Stuff, but I think its vibrant colors and dreamy imagery prove that the person who designed the cover actually read the book.

The Deal:

Jane has just moved to Coney Island, the place of her deceased mother’s childhood, with her father and her brother Marcus. Jane and Marcus inherited their grandparents’ rundown house upon the occassion of their grandfather’s death, and their plan is to stay in Coney Island for a year, fix up the house, sell it, and get the hell out. “It’s only for a year,” Marcus and Jane’s father keeps reminding them.

But soon Jane falls in love with Coney Island – shut-down rides, rundown bars, chained-up carousel horses and the people who call it home – goth dwarf Babette, legless HT, the giant Legs, and a mysterious boy named Leo who happens to have a tattoo that Jane is certain she’s seen before.

In a year of exploring Coney’s past and fighting for its future, Jane discovers that not everything is easy and not everything is just. But with the help of a secret set of keys, she might just discover things she never knew about her mother and herself.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

I love Luna Jane! She has a life that almost seems enviable from the outside – her dad is a ROLLER COASTER DESIGNER, y’all! And she’s lived all over the world! And, you know, while she may look sort of Plain Jane, that could be enviable to someone who is 4 ft tall and dresses in all black.

But her dad’s an out-of-work roller coaster designer, who has substituted booze for aerodynamics. Her brother is 90% jerk and only 10% unpunchable person. And her mother’s death has torn her world, and her family, apart.

Jane navigates all of this with humor and grace and balances the many varying forces in her life in ways that never seem contrived or overly-adult. I would be proud to give her my BFF charm and I want to stay by her side, exploring the hidden corners of Coney Island, forever.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Tara Altebrando has done the often impossible – written a completely swoony book that has very little sexytimes action in it. Every glance, every smile, every brush of the hand made my tummy shimmer with anticipation. Reading this book felt a lot like those first heady days (or weeks or months, but whatever, I’m a quick mover.) of a new crush, when everything in you rushes to your fingers, and they itch to hold the hand of your latest love interest. And when you finally do, everything turns over inside and your heart feels full enough to burst.

So if you, too, love that feeling, then you’re going to love this book.

(Also, as an aside, if you would like to recapture the tingly feeling of holding hands with the one you love, may I suggest going to the United Arab Emirates? Public displays of affection are illegal there, so you’ll walk down the streets yearning to do something silly and simple like holding hands. Knowing that you can’t makes the yearning all the more delicious.)

Talky Talk: A Magical Walk Along the Beach

Oh, man, I love Altebrando’s style with this book. It has the perfect mix of beach read and tender portrayal of life. She grounds the fantastic elements – carnies and mermaids – in reality and elevates the all-to-real elements – gentrification and cultural wars – into the fantastic.

This book is a bit like a sea shanty – a little salty, a littly crusty and overall magical.

Bonus Factor: Coney Island

I’ve always wanted to go to Coney Island, because HELLO THERE ARE ROLLER COASTERS ON A BEACH! I feel like I have been there now, though, because Altebrando brings every glorious and dingy aspect to life. Not only does she delve into the splendor and insanity of the former Coney Island but she brings every current gritty detail to the page. I was as concerned and disheartened by the proposed development of Coney as the characters in the book were.

Bonus Factor: Roller Coasters

I LOVE ROLLER COASTERS YOU GUYS. Where else is it acceptable to hurl your body around at incredible speeds without even wearing a seat belt? Plus, the roller coaster that Jane’s dad designs . . . let me just quote Tina Fey’s awesome daughter Alice by saying “I WANT TO GO THERE.”

Bonus Factor: Great Teachers

Tina Fey as Ms. Norbury, the awesome match teacher in Mean Girls

Um, I really want to attend Coney Island High School? Mostly so that I can sign up for History of Coney Island class, which is AWESOME. Their teacher shows them insane videos of elephants being electrocuted and asks them to write essays about why they did or did not choose to watch said video. He asks them to develop plans to save Coney Island and in general treats his students like the young adults they are, and not as kids.

Bonus Factor: The Tami Taylor Award for Amazing Mothers

Friday Night Light's Tami Taylor at a football game

Tami Taylor is one of the best women on tv AND she’s an amazing mom to occasionally bratty Julie and alienesque Gracie Belle. And Jane’s mom is totally deserving of this award, even if we do have to award it posthumously. Jane’s memories of her mother and her Coney-inspired games weave through this book, and I felt almost that I was a young Jane, being comforted by her mother’s words: “We are flying through a storm. Never fear, we are quite safe.”

Relationship Status: Those Summer Niiiiights

Much like Sandy, I didn’t know what I was getting into when I met this book at the start of summer*. It looked like it could be interesting, but I certainly wasn’t going to get invested, you know? But it only took a few minutes of hanging out with this book before I could tell that I was falling for it, and hard. Pretty soon, this book was all I could think of, all I could talk about. I looked forward to every minute I could grab with it and resented any real-world intrusions that kept me from my summer love.

Our relationship seemed to end as soon as it began, but I immediately went back to school and told everyone all about my summer love. They might think it was just a fling, but I know better, and I’ll always remember those su-ummer niiiiiiiiiiiights. (Tell me more! Tell me more!)

*I live in Texas. It’s already summer.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Penguin. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Dreamland Social Club will be released on May 12, and if you all don’t go out and immediately buy it, I’m going to eat my own hair out of frustration.

Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink.