In Bilen’s novel, two teens, each suffering from trauma from past tragedies, pursue a relationship as a serial killer roams free.
When 17-year-olds Jacob and Olivia meet, she’s just been to the funeral of a friend she knew in sixth grade—the latest victim of a murderer in the area called the Sweet Dreams Strangler. Jacob used to live in Michigan with his father, but now, after being involved in a drunken driving accident, he’s been sent to live with his FBI agent mother in Olivia’s Pennsylvania hometown. The teens feel an immediate attraction, and after they start regularly walking home from school together, their feelings only grow stronger. Olivia has a secret: When she was 7, her dad, who suffered from schizophrenia, tried to kill himself—and her—in a fire. Olivia survived, but she’s recently started hearing voices, including that of her dead friend. Jacob has a secret, too: He suffers from headaches and sometimes from apparent blackouts. He also sketches faces that he sees in a recurring nightmare, which turn out to be the victims of the Sweet Dreams Strangler. Is Olivia slipping into mental illness like her father? Do Jacob’s dreams hide a darker truth? And will the killer ever be caught? Bilen writes in a polished, efficient style in the first person, present tense, alternating between Olivia’s and Jacob’s perspectives. The dialogue is mostly naturalistic, although it edges toward TV–style banter when Jacob and Olivia converse. Despite the story’s dark themes, the overall tone remains surprisingly upbeat. The chapters sometimes feel a bit too short, giving the work a choppy feel; still, this gives it a constant sense of forward motion that carries the reader along. Olivia and Jacob are both relatable characters, and their romance has a pleasant, high school–sweetheart tone. For much of the book, Bilen succeeds in obfuscating the significance of the story’s supernatural elements; the denouement arrives in a breathless rush that removes any ambiguity but takes away some of the mystique.
A surprisingly buoyant supernatural YA thriller.