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Friday, June 5, 2015

"The Vault of Dreamers: The Vault of Dreamers #1" by Caragh M. O'Brien (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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OVERVIEW: The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students' lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students' schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What's worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.

FORMAT: The Vault of Dreamers is the first book in a proposed YA trilogy. It is a mixture of science fiction, psychological thriller, dystopian, romance, and high school atmosphere. It was published September 16, 2014 by Roaring Brook Press. It stands at 432 pages.

ANALYSIS: I first came across Caragh M. O'Brien when she published her first YA series – Birthmarked. It was gritty and intense. When I heard about her new project for a psychological thriller that involved a reality TV show mixed with an arts/performing arts high school and a mystery, I knew I just had to read it. It did not disappointment.

There are a lot of elements plot wise thrown into this novel. There is the first plot element involving The Forge School. This is THE school anyone who is anyone wants to go to, but you not only have to have an artistic talent, but you have to be well-liked by fans.

Yes, fans. The Forge School is the setting for a reality show where Internet users can follow their favorite students around and watch all the nitty gritty action. Each freshmen class starts off with 100 students, but is quickly whittled down to 50, based off of fan votes/views.

If you thought The Forge School was just any old school, it isn't. Every day, for 12 hours the students are enclosed in sleep vaults. It is believed that 12 hours of forced sleep allows the students to enhance their creativity and become overachievers. But the question is.... is sleeping the only thing going on at night? That isn't what one student Rosie believes.

Most of the first half of the book focuses on this plot element. Readers are taken on an adventure as they learn more about Rosie, the setup of the school, and discover that things are not what they appear to be. We are introduced to the idea that something is not right at The Forge School and the students may be used for something more than just pawns in a reality show.

Of course, during this first half of the book we are introduced to the main romantic storyline. Rosie starts to fall for a boy who works 'behind the scenes' in the kitchen of the school. This romantic love story is what sparks Rosie's instant fame on the reality show and ultimately keeps her in the school. Unfortunately, things may not be what they seem and their relationship is ultimately tested as it is forced to play out in front of the cameras and admin of the school.

I found the romance element difficult to get into. Rosie barely knew the guy and was falling instantly in love with him and trusting him with everything. I just struggled to really care about this part of the story and found myself wishing there was a bigger emphasis on the mysterious element of what was going on at the school than Rosie's love life.

That leads me to the second part of the book – the testing. Rosie eventually discovers that the students are being removed at night and tested. She is unsure why they are being removed, what is being done, or what is happening. She vows that she will uncover this mystery, even if it results in her expulsion from the school.

This is when things start to get interesting with the book. Unfortunately, there was a missed opportunity to really develop the storyline and concept. It felt as if so much time was spent on the romance element that when it came time for the 'big reveal' it was rushed. There was a lot going on and a lot that needed to be explained, but it happened so quickly that it was hard to process, let alone understand, which leads me to the ending.

In an effort to not give away any spoilers, what did I just read? That is my initial reaction for the ending of the book. I know what I read, my brain understands it, but the way it ended left me with a 'What?!' expression. All I can say is the ending is not really expected and it is a certain cliffhanger for the next book.

Overall, I enjoyed The Vault of Dreamers. I found it fast-paced and mysterious. I kept reading to see what would happen. Sure, there are a few things that could have been done better (the scientific aspect at the end could be explained better) and stuff that didn't really fit the story (the guardianship element introduced at the end seemed really far-fetched and thrown in to make the story end the way it did), but I liked it. I truly look forward to seeing where the second book takes us.

If you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary, this would be the right pick. Just be prepared for the cliffhanger at the end.


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