Jake, Lucid Dreamer by David J. Naiman is a beautifully written book, and I have little criticism to make about it. Jake, Lucid Dreamer is about a boy named Jake, a middle schooler who lives with his father and his younger sister. He is dealing with grief of losing his mother, and dealing with how his grief affects himself and others around him. He begins his titular lucid dreaming after his twelfth birthday, going into a fantasy world full of sentient animals, all who seem to have very familiar personalities. It is an adventure from start to finish, going back and forth between the real world and Jake’s fantasy world of animals (I’d highly recommend accompanying these dream sequences with Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals).
Naiman’s use of imagery is very thorough and clever. It is almost always animal imagery: Jake has an unsurpassed knowledge of animals compared to his fellow characters, and so animals appear often in his life. In the real world Jake uses similes and cliches, mentioning various animals, such as “if it walks like a duck…” and “game of cat and mouse”, and others. The only physical representations of animals Jake sees in the real world are the Orangutans he must study for his science project, and the little stuffed monkey named “Beenie” that is constantly hanging from his sister’s neck.
The imagery goes deeper when Naiman takes us into Jake’s dream world. Animals end up being a coping mechanism for Jake to deal with his grief. Often people go into a fantasy world in order to cope with issues in the real world – some people get into books or movies; others, like Jake, make up their own using familiar elements. The animal world of Jake’s dreams is (almost) directly parallel to the real world, with a few twists of his own. I do not know if this was intentional, but when reading Jake’s adventures in the dream world I get some wonderful references from, if not the same vibes as The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, in which another adolescent boy is using a fantasy world filled with the personification of concepts and emotions in order to cope with the real world. It is a great connection that adults reading Jake will recognize and love.
Naiman’s style flowed very nicely throughout the story. The transition between the real world and the dream world didn’t feel so turbulent, and the reader might also feel that they were slipping in and out of the dreams along with Jake. I do almost wish the book were a bit longer so that we could see more of the inner workings of Jake’s fantasy world. My one criticism with the style is with Jake’s dialogue, which really wasn’t a serious issue. You could definitely tell it is a teenager talking, though sometimes it seemed more like a thirteen or fourteen year old’s speech than a twelve year old’s (not that twelve year olds can’t be smart-asses, I’m sure I was at that age).
My only other criticism for this book is that I wish the character Will had a longer role. It seemed that in the beginning Will was destined to have a much more involved role, but it didn’t end up this way.
I believe this book will be loved by, and important for, people of all ages. Learning how to express and accept one’s emotions is challenging for both children and adults. This book shows this challenge not only in Jake’s mind, but in other characters’, for example, his father and his younger sister who are also coping with similar grief. Seeing this process develop in Jake’s characters would, I think, help its readers recognize and cope with their own emotions and/or grief. While I was reading this development in Jake’s character, I remember coming to a similar realization, that it is a slow but important process even in my own life. This book also touches on themes of facing one’s fears, learning to ask for help, and connecting with those around you, especially ones whom you love and who love you. All these are important lessons of growing up, and I know adults will appreciate this too, for their kids and for themselves.
Overall Jake, Lucid Dreamer is a fantastic story. The reader will go through all the powerful emotions Jake feels all the way to the ending, which is absolutely heartwarming. Did the ending make me cry? You bet it did, in the best way possible. There need to be more books like this.
*I also reviewed this book for the publishers on NetGalley.