There are many genres of storytelling that I will usually check out with no real knowledge of the story itself. I’m a huge sucker for noir stories and will pick one up given very little convincing. And, right up there for me are dystopia stories. I’ve always found humanity’s fixation with how society will collapse to be incredibly fascinating, culminating in an absurd class I took in college that was all about dystopias, why they exist, and what they mean for society. Our various fears about the world, ourselves, and the dreaded other made manifest to tell a story that basically serves as a warning about whatever the author is worried will destroy the world, while also potentially giving a story of hope showing that despite any horrible event, humanity will continue. So, whenever I hear someone give a new dystopia story a bit of positive reaction, I probably will give it a shot. Which, brings me to Lilliam Rivera’s Dealing in Dreams, a young adult dystopia book that was sold to me as a combination of Mad Max and the Warriors. And, that’s an incredibly solid synthesis of ideas. Plus, I was pleasantly surprised to find that that description wasn’t just some clever marketing, because this book is a whole lot of fun.
Dealing in Dreams takes place in a world that has largely fallen apart thanks to what appears to have been a massive earthquake. What we see of humanity has largely decided to live in one of the few cities left standing, which has been dubbed Mega City, and which operates under the control of a woman named Deesse. She has set up a matriarchal society where men exist primarily to work manual jobs, and serve as dancers and companions, while women are training from childhood to become warriors, splitting up into gangs who regularly fight and keep the streets free of most crime, while constantly plotting against each other to end up on top. Our heroes are Las Mal Criadas, a gang led by the stoic Chief Rocka, their bruising enforcer Truck, Shi, Smiley, and newcomer Nena. They are preparing to participate in a massive brawl that may get them a chance to live in the luxurious Towers with Deesse and the ruling class, when Chief Rocka gets approached by Deesse’s son with a proposition. That they purposefully lose their big battle, and complete a special mission for Deesse instead. They agree, and when they meet with Deesse they learn that she has become worried about a group of people living outside Mega City, the Ashe Riders, who she thinks are mobilizing to attack Mega City. So, if Las Mal Criadas agree to infiltrate the Ashe Riders and find out their capabilities, they will be invited to live in the Towers.
So, Las Mal Criadas leave Mega City for the first time ever, and find themselves in a very different world than they’re used on. They had previously come across a man addicted to a special drug that Deesse passes out known as suenos named Miguel who claims to have been from the Ashe Riders, and they force him to become their guide. They travel through the wastelands outside Mega City, and find it much rougher than they’d anticipated. Along the way they come across a gang who dress like dolls, and a large group of girls who work as gun-runners, delivering weapons into Mega City, while living outside of its confines. And, while dealing with those gun-runners Chief Rocka is put in a position to leave behind Nena, driving a wedge between her and the rest of the gang, causing her to go the rest of the way with just Miguel. And, when she finally gets to the domain of the Ashe Riders, she finds something very unexpected. They aren’t a war-like people planning on invading her homeland, they’re just a commune of people trying to live happily after the end of civilization. They’re kind, helpful, and happy. Which seems like a trap to Rocka. And that isn’t helped by the fact that their leader turns out to be Rocka’s sister, who abandoned her at a young age in the City. Chief Rocka is then introduced to the idea that things aren’t exactly what she though they were, putting her and the rest of Las Mal Criadas down an introspective path where they slowly begin to realize that their entire way of life has been based around seeing life from one point of view, and realizing that that maybe wasn’t the best way to live.
The trend of young adult literature being full of tales of dytopias is certainly a fascinating one, showing an entire generation who seems to expect the world to fall apart in their lifetime, while planning how best to survive that destruction is rather telling to the current state of the world. And this novel features one of my favorite wrinkles to the dystopia tale. Because this is a world that has fallen apart, and has started over, but that just slipped right back into a self-destructive situation. The world that Deesse has created in Mega City certainly doesn’t resemble the world we currently live in, but it’s no less exploitative and damaging, creating a society full of oppression and violence, where the strong are forced to prey on the weak to survive. And, because it’s the only world our protagonists have ever known, they assume it’s the only way to live. So, when they’re presented with a kinder, more communal way of living, they of course jump to the conclusion that there’s a catch, that this is a scam of some sort. Basic human kindness and empathy can’t be real, because they’ve lived in a world that has lied to them and told them that those are signs of weakness. They’ve been lied to their whole lives, and are unsure that there’s any way to break free of that lie. But, by the end of the tale they’ve seen the lie for what it is, and see that there’s a better way to live, and more satisfying and benevolent life is in their grasp, they just have to realize that society can be whatever they want it to be. And, tales like this give me hope. The world may be falling apart, but if we realize that we can reshape society in any way we see fit, we may be able to fix things. It may be a pipe dream, but you can’t give up hope.
Dealing in Dreams was written by Lilliam Rivera, 2019.
Categories: Page Turners