Verdict: With a well-developed ’60s setting and sympathetic protagonist, BIG DREAMS is a short novel that delivers strong emotions and big decisions in spades.
Teenager Lily Davis is an anomaly in Britain’s era of free love and drugs: she refuses to have sex until she can begin birth control. She has plans with her best friend, Jo, to study science and see the world once they pass their exams. But after she meets Tom, Lily’s resolve falters; she’s swayed by his declarations of love and her own fierce longing for intimacy. When she unsurprisingly becomes pregnant, she takes her future and her self—both uncertain, both damaged—into her own hands and tries to make everything right.
Pamela Ann Sun’s greatest success in BIG DREAMS is her construction of the emotionally complex Lily, whose life at home strongly influences her actions. Ever since Lily can remember, her parents have treated her with disinterest, and her father even sometimes hit her. Lily strives toward her goals despite their apathy, and her quiet trauma paints a portrait of abuse more horrifying than even the most graphic depiction of violence. Lily seems to fear her father’s wrath as much as the pause that the baby puts on her hopes for a future of travel and a career. Female readers of this novel, whether they grew up in the 1960s or are just coming of age today, can instantly relate to Lily’s dreams to be someone, to go places, to experience life without being tied down by a family or societal expectations. Where Sun falters is in the portrayal of Lily’s relationships with those outside her family: How could Tom fall so in love so quickly? Why would Jo act maliciously after previously accepting Lily’s relationship with Tom?
Another win for BIG DREAMS is its boisterous setting. For those who grew up in the ‘60s, especially in England, BIG DREAMS will surely be a blast from the past. Sun retains the integrity of the time period with references to then up-and-coming bands like the Kinks and popular TV shows like Dr. Who. Her characters’ speech patterns are authentic; the book’s diction is spot on, with just enough Englishness to sound real. Vivid imagery and countless details build up each scene and setting, right down to the clothing Lily wears—and the way it changes as Lily herself transforms throughout the book. Chapter by chapter, Sun builds us up for an intense conclusion in which something that seemed so ordinary turns out to be the biggest dream of all.
~Christina Doka for IndieReader