Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan)
Released: March 27, 2012
Genre: YA Contamporary
Sabrina has always been special. She sees swirling colors that streak across the clouds in the sky like rainbows on soapy water, and feels the wind blowing through her soul like a fiery wave from an atomic blast, things she uses in her art. Before, she felt special in a good way, like she was delicate and rare. Not like now, when everyone thinks she's special like something is wrong with her. Even her parents look at her that way. That's why they put her in the Wellness Center, hoping she can be fixed.Life is But a Dream is a really good look at how mental illness affects a person's life - not just how she copes with being different, not just with how she comes to terms with being on medication, with acknowledging that the way she thinks is wrong and harmful. The parts that really tore at my heart were her flashbacks to how her classmates and friends started changing the way they behave towards her when she starts exhibiting symptoms. The way they take advantage of her, when she is so defenseless and obviously struggling with reality - it underscores the cruelty of teenagers, and really the world in general, and the misunderstanding and recoil that comes instinctively when people are confronted with this situation.
Sabrina wonders if everyone is right, that she is crazy. Then one day, she looks up and sees Alec. He is a familiar stranger, someone Sabrina has seen before in her dreams, as if they have always known each other and are meant to be together. Alec looks at her as if she were still special in a good way. He doesn't believe there is anything wrong with them. Now Alec and Sabrina have a choice: to stay and be changed into the people the doctors want them to be or to run away and chase their dreams...
Sabrina's story is very much dependent on Alec. At first, I thought Alec was the best thing that could have happened to Sabrina. But as the story progressed, I started doubting that Alec was a good influence at all, and when Alec's story becomes clearer, I felt outraged at what he was doing. I was basically confused by Alec, and I think that's part of the point. The story is set in a mental hospital, but Alec insists there's nothing wrong with them while Sabrina has already begun to accept that she has to be "fixed." Since Alec presents himself, and Sabrina only knows him from what he reveals, it's hard for the reader to figure out if there's really something wrong with him as well. He mixes things up by sticking to the idea that they're the normal ones and everyone else is crazy. And while Sabrina does harm herself, there is always the underlying question of whether she should be allowed to think the way she does, seeing color and beauty in the world where no one else does. Medicating her means taking away those beautiful thoughts, and the way the story is told brings a pang of regret for the reality of its necessity.
Hearing everything from Sabrina's own voice colors the whole story with a surrealistic touch. There's a bit of whimsy, and the whole time it felt to me like I was hearing a schizophrenic person dreamily relating what happened. It adds to the strength of the narrative, and everything together makes a beautiful, terrible, wonderful, tragic story.