“Screamcatcher” is a young adult, fantasy adventure that centers on young Jorlene Pike, left alone at 17 when both of her parents die in a tragic accident. Jorlene—Jory—now helps her grandfather run their family curiosity shop that specializes heavily in Chippewa items and lore. Jory doesn’t necessarily put much stock into her heritage, until one night when she is having a sleepover with three of her other friends. The nightmares of her friends, as well as Jory, overload the old dream catcher in her apartment, they are then sucked into an alternate reality steeped heavily in Chippewa Indian folktale and lore. But as only Jory knows anything about what may be happening, and the strange alternate reality full of terrors they suddenly find themselves in, it’s up to her to navigate the twisting web and lead her friends to safety before they get stuck in the dream catcher forever—or until the nightmares kill them. This quick-paced adventure is nonstop action! Literally! The action almost never stops and features so many different native legends and harrowing survival scenarios, but the quick pace does mean this ended up being mainly a story focused on plot, and little character development.
Let me start officially by saying that I am in no way an OwnVoices reviewer, so I cannot say how authentic the portrayal of these native legends are, or how accurate. From the little I do know, and the level of detail the author provides of the different trials and the history of dream catchers, a lot of care was put into portraying Jory and the Chippewa stories and culture accurately while not making her, or her people’s struggle or culture, the focal point of the novel. These teens are sucked into the place where nightmares are caught, and escaping that horror show is what this story is about first and foremost. So much detail went into the different areas that Jory and her friends’ traverse, and as the friends are always in danger, they rarely stop to discus exactly what is happening or the history behind what they face, so take that for what you will.
But here’s the fun thing about “Screamcatcher”: the different areas of this dream catcher web are set up like levels of a video game, progressively getting harder and harder, complete with boss battle-like trials and beasts they have to face in order to “level up” and keep going. The characters have to become increasingly smarter about how and when they travel, and what they do for food as they have hundreds of miles to hike: through canyons and mountains, changing climates and topography along the way. The author does a great job of capturing the grittiness and just sheer difficulty of hiking for long stretches, let alone camping when you don’t have the appropriate gear, that it made me increasingly glad I was not in Jory or her friends’ shoes! Jory and her friend Choice really shine when it comes to their sheer force of will and tenacity to survive; those two never give up and keep going when the set-backs they face would have broken lesser minds. But despite Jory and Choice’s creativity and resolve, the other two characters weren’t all that well developed, and I was getting a little annoyed at how everyone treated the other girl in the group, Darcy.
The reader is only ever given Jory’s perspective, so I expect her to be the most fleshed out and well-rounded character, but even with that, the focus is rarely on the characters as individual people as much as the setting and plot of the book itself. Which is fine! But if you love more character driven novels, you may have similar problems with Lander barely feeling like a unique character, and poor Darcy being shoved into a kind of “fat girl” trope where she is constantly portrayed as this type of lazy slob who whines and pops painkillers all the time. Darcy is painted to be the weak link of the group, surviving only because of how steadfastly Jory and Choice push her to keep going. I get that not everyone would do well under the kind of stress these kids are under, but for people who are supposed to be Darcy’s friends, she’s just portrayed to be a really unlikeable, fat girl and some of the language used when comparing thin, athletic Jory to Darcy, I found to be a bit problematic. Plus, Darcy goes through these odd mood swings where she is throwing tantrums or professing her love suddenly, to then falling to her knees to beg God to deliver them from their trials… It was just all over the place at times, and the responses Darcy gets never made me feel like Jory or Choice were actually 17.
Which is ultimately why this book is getting 3.5 stars from me. While the action is well written and nonstop, and this was such a unique way to show an alternate reality based in ancient native folktales, the characters fell a bit flat and they never even read like they were teenagers. Come the end of the novel, I still didn’t feel like I even knew them all that well. But, this was a fun fantasy that, while it is part of a series, is a complete adventure all on its own, which was very refreshing for YA stories! So if you like adventure heavy YA fantasy, you may want to give this one a try! And thanks to the author for providing a copy for an honest review.
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