Monday, January 13, 2020

Review: Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau
Endeavor Quill
Publication Date: January 16th, 2020
Paperback. 386 pages

About Dreamland:

"The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground. 

The invitation to the luxurious Oriental Hotel a mile from Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family. 

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of nearby Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of. 

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder."

Nancy Bilyeau's Dreamland captures the exciting and tumultuous time and place of 1911 Coney Island by throwing readers right into the heart of Dreamland, one of three amusement parks that were part of the original location.

I absolutely adored this book and I'm not even sure where to start my review, so let's just start off with one of my favorite things about this book: the setting. The physical setting of Coney Island in 1911 was so beautifully and authentically brought to life by Bilyeau. It's so apparent that she took great care to present a setting that captures the atmosphere and perception of the world in 1911. (As an aside, I personally always manage to remember the year 1911 because it's the year that my great grandma and Lucille Ball were born, so the fact that this book took place in that year was just a weird, fun coincidence for me.) This was an interesting period of America since occurred right after the turn of the century when a lot of new modern concepts were beginning to grow and win popularity, yet there was still such a sharp desire and effort to keep with the traditions and norms of the past. There's a huge confliction of morals, ideas of modesty, etc. that were constantly developing and I think Bilyeau captured this atmosphere really well through her characters and the varying conflicts between Peggy, her sister, cousin, uncles, mother, and society as a whole.

Another thing that I really loved about this book was Peggy herself. Peggy is a modern, forward-thinking woman who has no problem standing firm in her own beliefs and preferences. She is headstrong in the best way possible, though being headstrong can of course lead to some rather dangerous and unpleasant situations, which Peggy certainly encounters. Despite being so determined and adamant about her own views and desires, one thing that I really liked about Peggy was how she was aware of and willing to sort of bite her tongue at moments when she knew saying something or acting out could harm her sister or another family member. She was always willing to do what she wanted, but I appreciated that she had boundaries that always popped up to hold her back from letting her actions harm others. She sticks up for these she cares about, no matter, it seems, the consequences to her and her situation in life.

Dreamland tackles some really big themes and concepts that still hold relevance today. There is a big plot point that has to do with foreigners in America and how they were treated in 1911 America (and, frankly, a lot of it still points to issues that we have today), an issue that Peggy wasn't aware of at the beginning of the novel, making it particularly interesting to see how she discovered this prejudice and mistreatment and what she did to try to combat it. There was also a great handling of power dynamics and relationships and how there are so many different types that can in just as many different forms. In Dreamland, there's the power struggle between the police and the foreigners, the rich and the not-rich, those in romantic relationships, those within family, and so many more. I really appreciated how well Bilyeau handled these topics and how much care she put into crafting all of them.

The pacing of Dreamland is on the slower side, so if you're looking for something fast-paced and full of action, this probably isn't it. Personally, I found the pacing to be the perfect form of slower--it allowed me to really fall into this setting and get to know the characters and the situation/purpose of the plot while still maintain my interest and making me not want to put down this book.

Overall, I've given Dreamland five stars. I also put this in my 'favorites' category on Goodreads because I really think back on this book with fondness and it's one that still seems to be popping up into my head a lot even weeks after I've read it. I can't wait to dive into more of Bilyeau's book and to see what's next!

*I received an ARC of Dreamland courtesy of NetGalley and Endeavor Quill in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*


  1. The setting alone makes me want to read this one, but from your review, I can tell there are going to be so many other things I'll love, too!

    1. It's such a great story with a lot to love--the setting is what first drew me to it!