The Dreaming Collection by Queenie Chan: B+

From the back cover:
Where dreams turn into living nightmares… Behind the gates of the exclusive Australian boarding school, Greenwich Private College, wait beautiful Victorian architecture, an excellent education, and a terrible secret: students have been known to wander into the surrounding bushlands and vanish… without a trace! Mysterious forces are at work, and as the rigorous atmosphere of the school starts to slowly crumble around them, twin sisters Amber and Jeanie are about to learn that the key to the school’s dark past may lie in the world of their dreams…

Due to unexplained family circumstances leading to the departure of their father for Singapore and the sale of the family home, twin sisters Amber and Jeanie find themselves shuffled off to Greenwich Private College, where their aunt works as headmistress. Said aunt promptly heads off to a symposium and funeral, leaving her nieces to get used to the place on their own. Before she leaves, she cautions the girls to hide the fact that they’re twins, since the Vice Principal is really weird about that.

Pretty quickly Amber and Jeanie begin hearing rumors about disappearances at the school, and the weird dreams they begin sharing, together with a mysterious sealed room and a bizarre series of paintings, suggest that there may be some truth to the legends. After a clandestine midnight party involving a séance, one classmate (Millie) goes missing, and Amber starts acting strangely. Jeanie begins to investigate the earlier vanishings, assisted by a young teacher whose roommate disappeared eleven years ago, and gradually uncovers what’s been going on.

As I read, I kept feeling like I was playing one of those first-person adventure video games like Dark Fall, where one explores the deserted building where one’s brother was last seen and looks for clues to his disappearance. The fact that the school is set in the middle of the Australian bush, and is quickly isolated by torrential rains and flooded roads, only reinforces the feeling. The interiors of the school are lovely; I wish there actually was a game based on this series, because I’d love to be able to wander about the place.

There are some minor things I could complain about. Amber is occasionally kind of annoying, one classmate pops up a couple of times only to dispense important information, and Jeanie fails to realize that tugging on the cloth under a candelabra is going to make it fall over and start a fire. Also, one of the best moments is when some of the vanished girls suddenly emerge from the bush to surround the school, looking for all the world like they’ve simply been caught out in the rain in their nightgowns. Jeanie implores her classmates not to let them in and then… we don’t hear about them again for quite some time.

Still, one sure way for a graphic novel of any kind to win my heart is to maintain a certain creepy atmosphere, and The Dreaming accomplishes this admirably. From the first volume to the last, Chan never allows the suspense to flag, and though there are a couple of points about which I’m a little fuzzy, the conclusion hangs together very well. The fate of the twins is especially intriguing, and I have some questions I’d love to discuss with someone else who’s read it. (Seriously, let me know if you’re interested!) In fact, some of the best elements of the story, especially the common ground between the present set of twins and the last set to inhabit the school, are things that I’m determined not to spoil.

I didn’t expect to enjoy The Dreaming this much, but I have to say that it has quite effectively deposed Nightschool as my favorite OEL series. I can see myself rereading it again in the near future.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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  1. Question: Is the fact that it’s set in Australia at all important? (Is the author Australian, do you know?) Otherwise it seems kind of random.

    • It is, actually. And I believe she is. She writes about the story being based on a classmate who went missing while hiking in Tasmania, at least.

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