Sometimes books arrive unasked-for in my mail box. I recently won the grand prize at an online book release party, without even realizing there was a grand prize to be won. Now, I'm always apprehensive about these things. I know how much authors are really hoping you'll give them a nice review and help them out. And I would love to do that but my problem is I'm picky, or maybe I have discerning tastes. Take your pick. And I don't want to say bad things about books given as gifts. So when I opened the mailbox and found Ashlynn's Dreams in it the same day as a book from a favourite author, I started in on Ashlynn's Dreams first. "Why?" you ask. "Simple," I answer. "I saw it was the debut novel from a self-published author and I figured I would only need a few pages to find several excellent reasons to put it down, and then I would be free to read whatever I wanted with a clear conscience. I mean, I'd given it a chance, right?"
If you know me at all, you can see what's coming. Things didn't work out like that. Although I groaned very slightly about the use of dialect, the voice was fresh, the story compelling, and I kept turning the pages. And turning, and turning.
Ashlynn's Dreams is a Young Adult novel by Julie C. Gilbert, who writes especially for teenagers who don't like to read. I'm not sure whether to classify it as a thriller or science fiction, seeing as we are dealing with a kidnapping in the present day and with genetically engineered children who are quite clearly beyond present capabilities. Be that as it may, the story is told through a series of letters submitted to the psychiatrist treating Jillian after she was rescued from a kidnapping. Most are from Jillian and her babysitter Danielle, who was kidnapped along with her. They retell the story from their individual perspectives and this is supplemented with the occasional letter from other people.
I am willing to bet it is pretty effective in getting reluctant readers to keep going. It worked on me. I won't pretend this is gourmet reading as I've defined it, but it was a good read. Jillian and Danielle are fleshed out well as characters, and although we know from the beginning that Jillian had been rescued, what we don't know is why she was kidnapped to begin with. It is clear right away that this was not an ordinary case, and that Jillian has been marked by the experience. The further we read, the more we realize that Jillian is an extraordinary person, in some very unsettling ways. We read to find out what exactly sets her apart, what happened during those twenty-one days she went missing, and whether she has really pulled through okay.
There were a few rough patches. Plausibility suffers occasionally, and I had at least one major question that was never answered at all, which frustrated me a bit. But I did read the whole thing in one sitting, which says a lot. So I recommend this for the afore-mentioned reluctant readers, and for those who are looking for a fun read that nonetheless has a bit of depth to it.