In Review: Dream Jumper: Book One–Nightmare Escape

A page turner for young readers that entertains with every page.

Dream Jumper: Book One–Nightmare Escape by Greg Grunberg & Lucas Turnbloom

Published by Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, on June 28, 2016. Softcover of 208 pages at $12.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.

The cover: Ben Maxwell looks very worried about his current situation: holding on to the neck feathers of a giant raven. The fright on his face is evenly matched by the stern look from the bird that is soaring high in the sky, just passing some mountains, as shown on the back of the cover which continues the image. This illustration is by interior artist Lucas Turnbloom and colorist Guy Major. It captures a reader’s eye instantly with the small boy on the larger bird, and the bright colors (such as Ben’s hoodie and the title) pop out well. The image and the colors will compel small ones to see how Ben got in this predicament. The cover design is by Phil Falco. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “Ben has a gift. He can jump into other people’s dreams. So when his classmates start falling victim to an evil dream monster, he knows he has to do something. But can he get to them in time? With help from a mysterious companion, Ben just might be able to defeat the monster and save his friends…if he can harness the power within.” This is a familiar story in science fiction, but I’ve not encountered this premise for younger readers. I’m curious to see what Greg Grunberg and Lucas Turnbloom do with this story. Overall grade: A

The characters: Ben Maxwell is a terrific protagonist. He knows that there’s something freaky going on with his dreams. In fact, he’s so smart, he’s been keeping journals about his dreams, allowing him to see if there are patterns to his dreams–and there are. His best friend is Jake, who’s a fun pal; his first appearance is certainly memorable, with the word “applewood” continuing to make me laugh. Jake knows that Ben can enter dreams, since he’s recently saved him from a monstrous version of their math teacher, Mr. Racine. He’s envious of Ben since he’s “like a superhero for nightmares.” Complicating things for Ben is his unrequited love for Kaylee Wu, whose very name causes his head to turn and his heart to race. When Kaylee disappears from school, Ben has to act like the hero Jake believes him to be. In addition to Mr. Racine, whose bad math puns are ones I’ve heard other teachers spout for over twenty-five years, there’s also Ben’s mother, who wants her son to stop having nightmares, and Dr. Alexson, who runs a sleep clinic that the young protagonist is taken to. The doctor appears to be hiding something from the mother and son, though he’s not the big villain of this series. I won’t spoil whom that individual is, but he/she (“It“?) makes a great debut casting a shadow on any victory Ben thinks he’s achieved. All the characters have a lot of personality, and some wonderful responses that will entertain the adults who are reading along with their children. These are the types of characters to root for. Overall grade: A

The settings: There are essentially three settings in this book: the real world, the dream world in the light, and the dream world in the dark. The real world includes Ben and his mother’s home, Ben’s school, and Dr. Alexson’s clinic. The home of the Maxwells is a comfortable environment, where Ben’s room is the expected mess of a typical middle schooler and the kitchen/dinning room is inviting and where the two talk. School is also a familiar location: desks, posters, books, and an overly enthusiastic instructor. Dr. Alexson’s clinic resembles the interiors of a hospital, though Ward Z contains some things that will surprise and make readers anxious. The dream world is the highlight of the book. In the sunshine, it contains lush valleys with bright mushrooms, while in the dark innocents are held captive while monsters lurk to ambush Ben. There are also smaller monsters in the sunlight, but they aren’t half the threat of the gigantic foe deep in the forest. This is a good mix of reality and fantasy. Overall grade: A

The action: The book smartly begins with Ben in a nightmare, saving Jake. It’s creepy and funny, with Ben discovering an interesting ability in the dream world. There are monsters aplenty and friends to rescue, leading to some great action sequences that will thrill younger readers. This is a definite high point for the book, because anything can happen in the nightmares. Even in the real world there’s some solid tension, with Kaylee disappearance and Dr. Alexson’s secrets. I found myself rapidly turning pages to see what would happen next. Overall grade: A+ 

The conclusion: All ends well for now, with a trio of allies introduced to help Ben in future adventures, though the villain still remains and someone looks to be an unwilling aide. The door is left wide open for more jumping and it can’t come soon enough. Overall grade: A

The art: Lucas Turnbloom provides the illustrations and Guy Major the colors. This is a great pair of artists. The book opens in a nice tribute to the opening shot to a series that writer Grunberg appeared on (Lost), and the color of the insect that causes Ben to awaken is nicely echoed by a series of large mushrooms on Page 2. When this insect returns to do a flyby off Ben, take a look at the beautiful sky behind the hero, which quickly changes into a more intense color, foreshadowing the dangers he’s about to encounter. Half of the creatures that chase Ben resemble a supernatural character, while the others are grotesque versions of more familiar characters — and the objects they throw at the protagonist had me shuddering! Jake’s introduction is funny, yet completely in line with the contents of a nightmare. The dark world of the nightmare is terrific, with the monster there a great design. Turnbloom really creates some great emotions in his characters, with Ben’s fear, his mother’s stress, and those brief gazes from Kaylee outstanding. The bottom of 176 has an emotional moment that made me a little teary eyed: for an artist to do this without text shows the mastery that Turnbloom has. This book looks great and I hope that both Turnbloom and Major return for the sequel. Overall grade: A

The final line: A page turner for young readers that entertains with every page, and plenty of fun lines that will keep the adults reading with them smiling. J.J. Abrams has been announced as producing an adaptation of this book, and its upcoming sequel, for Paramount. Beat the film, read this now. Overall grade: A

To order this book go to https://www.amazon.com/Nightmare-Escape-Dream-Jumper-Book-ebook/dp/B01HF7C2D8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1473640344&sr=1-1&keywords=dream+jumper+1+nightmare+escape

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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