AUTHOR: Lilliam Rivera
CATEGORY/AUDIENCE: Young Adult
GENRE: Dystopian, Speculative
RELEASE: March 5, 2019
PUBLISHER: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Nalah is so close to getting herself, and her crew of four other girls, off of the streets and into The Towers, where the elite live alongside Déesse, the female ruler of Mega City. As a child, Nalah watched her father & sister abandon her for Cemi Territory, the ruthless land outside of Mega City’s borders, and saw her mother die at the hand of drugs and poverty. Déesse has become an idol and a savior, so when she tasks Nalah with traveling into Cemi Territory to find a legendary gang, she jumps at the change. Believing that this is her ticket into the Towers, Nalah takes her crew on a harrowing journey, where she learns the truth behind the gendered society she lives in and the world that Déesse has built.
Lilliam Rivera has explored gender in a way I haven’t seen done before in YA. Mega City is dominated by women, with men are relegated to the bottom rung of society and taught to fear girls. Déesse has built a world where gender is only to be seen in binary, and there is no room for ambiguity or fluidity. Men are seen as greedy liars who are to blame for the downfall of Mega City, and women are seen as the soldiers who rebuilt it. There’s no room for exploration of gender, and those who do not fit the binary have been erased.
Female empowerment has come at the cost of other identities, and Lilliam Rivera presents the question of what it truly means to be free. Are we ever free if others are not? How do we fight for our freedom without destroying the freedom of others? How do we build a resistance that fights for freedom for all? As Nalah travels through Cemi Territory, she meets fluid and queer folks and begins to question how Déesse has allocated space to some identities and taken it from others; she has built a society that silences difference and makes no room for true self. Dealing in Dreams forces its readers to engage in complicated and uncomfortable conversations about gender and the rigid guidelines that Mega City upholds.
There is a thread of commentary in the world building of Mega City and Déesse’s leadership. The rigid guidelines she rules by extend beyond gender and to the borders and security of the space. Las Mal Criadas, and the other girl gangs, are tasked with protecting Mega City’s borders and keeping outsiders away. Déesse has cast out those who did not fit into her vision, and she has created cycles of drugs, consumerism, and violence that keep others powerless. Like all the girls of Mega City, Nalah has been conditioned to see Déesse as a savior, but as she learns the truth behind her leadership, she must question what price she’s willing to pay to align herself with the powerful.
Nalah is a strong young girl who has been hardened by the norms of Mega City and Déesse’s vision for women and girls. She feels so much older than 16, but she’s also still a young girl with dreams of her future and trauma from her past. I loved that this novel is very much about bonds between girls, and Nalah’s crew all felt so real. Truck, Smily, Shi, and Nena each had their own personalities and Nalah had a different relationship with each of them. Even Manos Dura, who dies before the book even begins, had a presence in Nalah’s journey. While the story is centered on Las Mal Criadas, there are other characters who feel fully developed and complex, inlcuidng Miguel, who serves as Nala’s guide to Cemi Territory, and others we meet along the way. The novel does start a little slow, but the story picks up its pace and continues to build in intricacy until the very end.
Dealing in Dreams has dystopian and speculative themes, making it very different from Lilliam Rivera’s debut, The Education of Margot Sanchez; However, fans of her work will still recognize her distinct writing style throughout Nalah’s story. This novel is a great recommendation for fans of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders or Marie Lu’s Legend, and readers who love the caste-based girl competitions of The Selection series by Kiera Cass. Dealing in Dreams is also perfect for teen readers who want an introduction to feminist speculative fiction or want to read about gender in a unique way. Lilliam Rivera without a doubt deserves a space in every library, and I’m truly looking forward to seeing what she writes next.