- Dystopian Dreams
Simon and Schuster
336 Pages; Print, $11.99
In Lilliam Rivera's young adult dystopian novel Dealing in Dreams, Nalah (a.k.a. Chief Rocka) is the leader of Las Mal Criadas, an all-girl gang that acts as a street police force for Déesse, the authoritarian leader of Mega City. Nalah and her crew are in constant competition with rival gangs, the Deadly Venoms in particular, for the favors of Déesse. Between fights, the gangs take solace at the bars (called boydegas, a portmanteau combining boy and bodega) where they are catered to by the young men. Though comfortable in her world, Nalah wants to advance, and her sights are set on joining the private guard of Déesse and living in the luxurious towers of Mega City. She gets her chance when Déesse tasks her with crossing the border of the city and journeying into the outside, into Cemi Territory, and infiltrating a group called the Ashé Ryders who are believed to pose a threat to Mega City. Once outside the city, Nalah finds that her estranged sister Yamaris (a.k.a. Zentrica) is the leader of the Ashé Ryders, and Nalah must deal with her conflicting feelings about her family. When she returns to Mega City with the intel, Déesse does not give her the reception she had wanted, and the novel ends as Nalah turns away from Déesse and begins to feel the initial sparks of revolution, as Nalah declares: "Mega City is my home, and I intend to take it back. Maybe with the Ryders, or maybe we need to start anew elsewhere." Dealing in Dreams is not only a terrific addition to the young adult canon but also to the growing body of Latinx speculative fiction.
The novel has many of the key elements of a contemporary dystopian novel. The plot is nested in a background of a distant environmental and social collapse, with only remnants of technology remaining, including a vestige of computer/internet technology (called codigos), but which is tightly regulated by Déesse. What most connects the novel to dystopian fiction, however, is the new structure of society created in the novel. Like many works of dystopian fiction, there are two competing geographic regions in the novel which contain radically different political and cultural ideologies. Inside Mega City, it is control, power, and violence that are the values for living. While in Cemi Territory, it is culture, relationship, and tolerance that are required. The most conspicuous difference between these two distinct regions is the differing gender roles. In Mega City, women hold the power, which Déesse justifies by the fact that, since men were responsible for the indeterminate social collapse called the "Big Shake of 2060," they cannot be trusted with the responsibility of running the city. In Mega City, men are the servants, prostitutes, and factory workers. In Cemi Territory, men and women are more equal, in addition to the fact that gender fluidity is more acceptable. For example, one of the main characters, Miguel, who also goes by Graciela, was kicked out of Mega City but is able to find a place in Cemi Territory. Nalah also encounters a gay couple living in Cemi Territory in a house all their own, something that could not happen in Mega City. The power dynamic of gender is overly rigid in Mega City, while in Cemi Territory there is a looseness to gender roles.
At the beginning of the novel, Nalah is openly on the side of Mega City. Her instincts are to fight when confronted with a problem, and she is offended by the acceptance of fluidity in Cemi
Territory. However, the novel also depicts her as something of a bridge between the two regions. This is expressed through her personality, as she is a smart fighter and often uses her brains more than her fists. It is also expressed through her personal history, since she has family connections in Cemi Territory even though she had never been there. It also appears in...