Review: Dream On, Amber is a poignant coming of age novel about navigating middle school, awkward friendships, a budding first crush, an intimidating bully, and the realities of being a biracial tween in a single family home. The book does a great job in handling all of these issues with humor, heart, and also introspection without making the story sapping or its characters wallowing in self pity.
Amber is the star of this book and it didn't take long for me to adore her. Snarky, artistic, and an introvert, Amber is not the easiest person to get to know. She has a chip on her shoulder, feeling a bit different than her peers in South London. Her biracial status, half Italian and half Japanese, make her exotic in the eyes of her peers and she is constantly confronted with racial insensitivities such as "say something in Japanese." Her loving and free-spirited mum; maternal grandmother, Nonna; and rambunctious little sister, Bella, keep Amber on her toes and feel loved. Along with the dealing with the anxieties of starting middle school and all that comes along with it, Amber reveals that her her sadness is from her absent father. Amber's father left the family when she was six, and it's a loss that feels like a "black hole."
Amber's black hole grows even larger when she and Bella witness an innocent father-daughter moment in the park. Amber knows she may not get to have that father-daughter moment ever, but she is determined to protect her younger sister from the pain she feels. When finds out that her sister is writing to her father and wants Amber to deliver her letters to the post office, Amber begins forging letters from her father to Bella. The letters are heartbreaking to read and while we may not morally support Amber in how she handling the situation, we can definitely empathize with her. Things quickly spiral, and what seemed like a white lie intended to help may wind up causing more harm than good.
Amber comforts herself and works through her insecurities through her artwork and by creating an imaginary "Dream Dad" with whom she shares her deepest fears. Amber's authentic tween voice will resonate with readers, both younger and older, who have ever felt like an outsider. The conversational first-person narration is enhanced by black-and-white doodles throughout. While I would have liked to get more information as to what happened to her father, Amber does have significant character growth and is on her way to be more comfortable in her own skin.
Rating: 4 stars
Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong Grade 3 readers and up.
If you like this book try: Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell, Shug by Jenny Han