Dreaming of Antigone is the story of Andria, the girl who dresses all in black; the girl who has a scary illness; the girl whose outgoing, beautiful, popular twin sister, Iris, overdosed on heroin. Struggling to deal with her loss and confusion, Andria distracts herself by spending time with her friends, counting down the days until she can get her driving license, gazing through her telescope at the constellations above, and writing poetry on her desk in algebra - a class she’s barely passing.
One day, Andria’s poem is gone, and in its place is another poem. Intrigued, she writes another poem, only to find a different one in its place the next day. When Andria volunteers for an extra credit project at her school library, cataloging poetry books, she realizes that her mysterious poet is none other than Alex, the boy who Andria blames for Iris’s death. As she waffles between hate towards and curiosity about Alex, Andria’s world tilts once again, when she discovers something that makes her question her family, her sister’s death, and even herself. Can broken dreams – and people – ever be made whole again?
I struggled to come up with an appropriate rating for Dreaming of Antigone. On the one hand, I read it within 2 days and was certainly curious to know “what happens next,” but on the other, I felt ill-at-ease when I reached the end of the story. I was initially intrigued by the synopsis, and was hoping there would be something meaningful that I could draw from the story, which deals, on the surface, with teenage drug use and suicide. While I enjoyed the poetry and Greek mythology aspect, I became increasingly disturbed by the almost arbitrary nature in which serious, and at times, horrific subjects are introduced, and then addressed in a manner that do not do them justice.
Ultimately, what Dreaming of Antigone suffers from, is Do-It-All syndrome. Teen drug use, substance abuse, teen sex, sexual predators, illness, and teen suicide all make an appearance in the story. These are very real issues that teens and adults alike deal with on a daily basis. This should have been a compelling, raw, heartwrenching read, yet, I was left feeling a bit like a butterfly, flitting from flower to flower, not sure which one to care about or focus on.
Part of the difficulty I had in caring about the subject matter was my inability to fully connect with Andria, our main character. I enjoyed her interest in poetry and astronomy, and even Googled some of the constellations she mentions. I was also interested in her illness, and know that many readers who also suffer with it will be able to connect emotionally to this aspect. However, Andria's responses to various situations that she was put in were, at times, not realistic. I understand that we each deal with shock, guilt, shame, and pain in different ways, but because she generally didn’t respond with strength or conviction to the more severe situations, I did not feel compelled to take her, or them, very seriously. Which is unfortunate, both for the story and for its readers.
Of all the characters, I liked Alex the most, though I wish we had learned more about him. He had his own demons with which to struggle, and I felt his struggle was more real than Andria’s, despite Andria having gone through “more.” While I’m not sure I agree with the whole love-triangle-with-my-dead-sister’s-ex-boyfriend angle, I think some readers will enjoy the swoony bits. (Speaking of swoony bits, I thought describing a girl as riding her boyfriend like she’s a jockey in the Kentucky Derby was rather… gross… and not swoony.)
Andria’s two best friends, Natalie and Trista, were alternatingly disappointing and encouraging as characters. Encouraging in that they encouraged Andria to get out and start living again, and disappointing in that they both put a lot of unconscious pressure on her to be like her sister, and conscious pressure on her to be with Alex. What I disliked the most about this latter part was the idea that Andria and Alex could “fix” each other. To a certain point, our significant other should make us want to be a better person, but to be together to try to fix each other is a disaster waiting to happen.
It wasn’t until the end of the book that I felt more conviction, on Andria’s part, about everything that had happened up until that point, but by then, it was over, and rather hurriedly, too. I don’t expect my stories to be tied up with a nice, little bow, but I did want some more closure on certain subjects, and felt restless after I finished reading.
I wish I could be more explicit in my review, but I tend to shy away from discussing spoilery bits until the book has been available to the general public for more than six months. Dreaming of Antigone by Robin Bridges debuts on March 29, 2016. While it didn’t quite work for me, I can see why a lot of readers might enjoy it. My advice on this one, dear reader? Try it before you buy it.
Do you feel serious subjects, like teen sex and drug use, are dealt with realistically in YA fiction? Is it glorified or romanticized?
Do you feel serious subjects should be handled responsibly, realistically, or both? What does it mean to handle a subject matter responsibly?
What’s the best book you’ve read recently that deals with one or more of the issues described in this review?
*Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.