Authors: Jason Segel and Kristen Miller
400 Pages–Ages 8-12 (and up)
Published by: Yearling on July 28, 2015
Summary (from randomhouse.com/kids/nightmares):
Charlie Laird has several problems.
- His dad married a woman he is sure moonlights as a witch.
- He had to move into her purple mansion, which is NOT a place you want to find yourself after dark.
- He can’t remember the last time sleeping wasn’t a nightmarish prospect. Like even a nap.
What Charlie doesn’t know is that his problems are about to get a whole lot more real. Nightmares can ruin a good night’s sleep, but when they start slipping out of your dreams and into the waking world—that’s a line that should never be crossed.
And when your worst nightmares start to come true . . . well, that’s something only Charlie can face. And he’s going to need all the help he can get, or it might just be lights-out for Charlie Laird. For good.
It was actually the sequel of this book that initially brought my interest to this book. One day on a nice September day I went to Target and browsed the limited middle-grade bookshelves and I saw Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic and after I read the jacket summary I started a three month battle with myself on whether to buy it or not. Every time I would go to Target I would spend an absurd amount of time staring at the book debating with myself whether to get it or not. Eventually in December I broke down and decided to buy it, but low and behold I found out that it was actually the second book in an on-going series. Believe it or not, in those three months I never realized that the book next to it was Nightmares! and was the first book in the series. Anyway, I bought both books and set down to read this one. It wasn’t until I got home that I connected the dots that the author was Jason Segel the actor. When I first read the authors the name Jason Segel sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. I figured it was an author that I had read before or something. Boy was I surprised.
Apparently children’s books written by famous people are all over the shelves. It’s so easy to buy into that idea that because someone is famous they are talentless. Even this book, which is co-written, I was guilty of automatically thinking, “Oh, that makes sense. It was probably Kristen Miller who did all the writing and Jason Segel just slapped his name onto the cover.” After mentally slapping myself for thinking something so cruel and unfounded, I decided to read the book with an open mind. The premise of both books sounds interesting so I’m certainly going to read them (plus I had already purchased the books so I’m compelled to read them).
NOTE: It was really hard for me to review this book without giving any spoilers. This book gets off to a slow start so many of the plot elements aren’t introduced until later in the book and I don’t want to spoil those for you. Instead I’ll give a little paragraph telling you what I liked about the book, but not really explain why (because I don’t want to give any spoilers). Then I’ll delve into more details after the spoiler tag.
Overall, I found the book to be satisfactory. The beginning of the story is pretty creepy, I found most of the characters to be really likable, and Segel and Miller did a great job at building the Nightmare world . Charlie and his brother Jack were very realistic characters and their relationship dynamic was also quite believable. Out of Charlie’s three friends Rocco was my favorite, Alphie was not bad, and Paige was just okay. The message of the book (as you have probably guessed from the book title and summary) is that you need to face your nightmares to escape from them which is a pretty standard message, but what I really liked was the small side message that was also worked in throughout the book (I won’t tell you because I don’t want to spoil it). When reading a book intended for children, even if the book is supposed to be scary, I never have much hopes that it will affect me; however, the opening chapters to this book are actually really creepy.The beginning of the book (and arguably the rest of it too) is a bit scary so I would recommend this to older children that don’t scare easily. Also, this book is pretty long at 400 pages with a generally slower start so it may not hold the interest of really young readers.
As I stated above, the book has a really slow start; I felt like we didn’t actually get to the story until we were about halfway through the book. Fortunately, even though the beginning of the book wasn’t super plot heavy I still enjoyed it because it was written well. In the first half of the story we learn a little about Charlie and the relationship between the family members. Charlie doesn’t really get along with his stepmother (whom he naturally calls ‘Stepmonster’), Charlotte, and he seems to have a strained relationship with his father as a result. Charlie’s younger brother, Jack, gets along just fine with Charlotte and with Charlie as well. The reason that Charlie is distrustful of Charlotte is because he feels that she is a witch trying to take over his family after his mother died (note: he thinks she’s a real witch, not just a mean person). Jason Segel and Kristin Miller did a wonderful job of making the reader sympathetic toward Charlie and his situation. In the town of Cypress Creek nightmares can be very real and they truly can scare the residents. Charlie begins to have nightmares about a witch who resembles Charlotte and since the nightmares feel all too real Charlie begins to think that it is actually Charlotte who is terrorizing him. Eventually, the witch crosses over to the real world through the portal in Charlie’s home and allegedly kidnaps Charlie’s brother Jack. This is the last straw for Charlie so he chases the witch into the portal. The rest of the book then focuses on Charlie meeting his friends in the nightmare world, helping them conquer their nightmares, and then conquering his own.
I will admit that I think Charlie treats Charlotte a little bit too harsh at times. I know that Charlie is trying to cope with the loss of his mother, which is too heavy of a burden for any child to carry, but even so he probably didn’t have to treat Charlotte so cruelly. Fortunately, in the end his relationship with her seems to be improving and I’m hopeful that in the second book it will be a positive relationship.
I thought that Charlie’s extra nightmare was also very well done. It added suspense throughout the story because when I was reading I instinctively thought that the bigger nightmare that Charlie was feeling was tied to the main antagonist, President Fear. I found his extra nightmare to be incredibly frightening. It’s heartbreaking to lose someone the first time, but having to relive it? I’d imagine it’s one of the worst nightmares to have.
As I stated above, I would recommend giving this book a try as I think you will be able to genuinely connect/sympathize with Charlie and the story isn’t bad to boot.
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