Author: J. Gabriel Gates. Release date: 2011. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc. ISBN: 9780757315886.
Personal thoughts: This novel took me for a bit of a roller coaster ride, but it wasn’t exactly a pleasant one. I had very high hopes for about the first third of the book with the introduction of Caleb and Bean, their travelling to Florida, and beginning to uncover the secrets of the Dream Center. As the plot was revealed, however, the novel took a very dark turn that I found to be a bit unsavory. Normally I am okay with stories that delve into dark things (the occult, witches, demons, etc.) For some reason, I just felt the shift in this book was too abrupt and not explained well enough for me to enjoy it. I was also not a huge fan of the Ron Bent character and didn’t find that he fit well into the story. Despite these negatives, I do think that, with a little tweaking, J. Gabriel Gates’ horror writing could be really great. I would not shy away from picking up another one of his titles in the future.
Plot summary: Caleb Mason has it all together. He has just graduated high school in Malibu, California, has the hottest girlfriend in town and an awesome best friend, Benjamin “Bean” Friedman, who keeps him laughing. Now that he’s done with high school, Caleb plans to travel to Africa and investigate the AIDS pandemic, hopefully giving his career as a photo journalist a jumpstart. Everything changes, however, when Caleb receives a cryptic letter from Christine Zikry. As a child growing up in the small town of Hudsonville, Florida, Caleb was best friends with Christine and her twin sister Anna. After Anna mysteriously disappeared, memory of the two sisters has haunted Caleb, even though he and his mother long moved away to California. Now Christine has resurfaced, and is begging Caleb to return to Hudsonville, claiming that she is being held against her will for “treatment” in a place called the Dream Center. Disturbed by the letter and fearing for the life of his friend, Caleb abandons his plans to travel to Africa and, instead, travels to Florida with Bean, hoping to spend time with his dad, who is still living in Hudsonville. When Caleb and Bean arrive in Florida, they are immediately plunged into a situation more horrifying than they could have ever imagined. Caleb’s father is missing, as are hundreds of Hudsonville residents. Everything seems to revolve around the mysterious Dream Center, a facility claiming to be dedicated to the treatment of sleep disorders. As Caleb and Bean learn more about the truth of the Dream Center, it seems that nothing has prepared them for the dangers they face.
Review: Exceptionally creepy and dark, J. Gabriel Gates’ The Sleepwalkers proves to be a spooky yet inconsistent read. The beginning of the novel does well to create a sense of foreboding for the reader. Caleb’s ideal life is clearly going to take a turn for the worse when he returns to Hudsonville, the small town with a dark secret. The relationship between Caleb and his best friend Bean is arguably the most well worked aspect of the novel, with the two exchanging amusing quips back and forth for much of the story. The rest of the characters, however, tend to be muddled. Christine’s lifelong infatuation with Caleb is never fully explained, and when he learns about it, Caleb doesn’t appear perturbed by her obsessive behavior. Several side characters are introduced but not fully flushed out, including a Vietnam veteran-turned priest-turned vigilante named Ron Bent, Christine’s alcoholic “witch” mother, and a tough but caring waitress named Margie. The events of the story as well, though often quite creepy, are not explained enough to be satisfying. What is the exact nature of the sleepwalkers? Why did Caleb and Bean’s parents let two eighteen-year-olds travel across country alone? What is the significance of the clocks? Overall, the story has its share of high points, but leaves too many unanswered questions to be a truly satisfying horror novel. Recommended only to readers who are interested enough in the homicidal sleepwalker concept enough to get past the flaws.
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Damage by Anya Parrish.
Themes: Sleepwalking, insane asylums, insomnia, demons, the devil, murder, grief.
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist.
Series Information: N/A
- Do you think that Caleb was plagued by guilt over what happened to Anna?
- Do you think Caleb was truly happy with his life in Malibu? Why or why not?
- What were your impressions of the clocks and the radio? How did those objects impact the story?
- Do you think Christine was insane? Why or why not?
- What do you think happened at the end of the story?