I was excited to read Life is But a Dream because of the unique setting and subject matter, yet I was somewhat hesitant, as well: a love story that takes place in an insane asylum? Behind the name "Wellness Center," that's essentially where Sabrina and Alec are during the vast majority of Life is But a Dream; however, once I actually started reading, Brian James, between his writing style, and his strong, well-developed characters, lured me fully into the story. Despite the fact that Sabrina, our heroine, is a diagnosed schizophrenic, the writing style is very clear and easy to follow, which was unexpected. Having previously read and enjoyed Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me, I was extremely curious as to if I would be able to not only follow, but enjoy, Sabrina's point of view. I found her to be heart-achingly real. Her narrative was vivid, imaginative, and unorthodox - all she wanted was to be herself, and she couldn't understand why everyone was so insistent that she change.
When Sabrina meets Alec, everything is different. He's the first person in too long who looks at her and doesn't see anything wrong. In fact, Alec encourages her to hold tightly to her perspective on the world. From the summary, I was worried that Alec might be a danger to Sabrina; instead, in some ways, he is actually good for her. Alec and Sabrina were a really fascinating part of Life is But a Dream. Their relationship almost came across as insta-love, except it was somehow deeper than that. It was clear that they really did care a great deal for one another, each in their own ways.
Interspersed with childhood memories and the events that led up to Sabrina's stay at the Wellness Center, Life is But a Dream spins the tale of Sabrina's struggle to reconcile her view of the world with the world's view of her. While others around her gave up their childhood fantasies, Sabrina stubbornly holds on. It was both fascinating and heart-rending, watching her slowly begin to question everything she had ever believed in: was she right or wrong? Should she listen to Alec, or to her therapists?
I really enjoyed Life is But a Dream, largely due to the fact that Sabrina was entirely relatable; although the reader knows she is a schizophrenic, Sabrina doesn't - shes just lost and confused. Seeing her come to terms with the fact that she does need help, that the medicine prescribed to her isn't meant to harm her, was done so carefully and realistically by Brian James that it felt absolutely real. I could sympathize with Sabrina, even as my heart ached for her, and I wanted her to see what I saw: that she needed help.
The latter half of Life is But a Dream didn't play out as I expected - it was much better. I really expected the story to end tragically; instead, I actually was able to breathe a sigh of relief with the hopeful ending. The pacing matches to the story being told - the urgency builds nicely as the climax approaches. Life is But a Dream is a strong story that readers won't soon forget, as it questions what it means to be normal, and the risk of conforming.