This review is brought to you as part of the Virtual Book Tour for Sleepless, hosted by Xpresso Book Tours.
Sleepless was first published in 2015 and is Michael Omer’s debut novel. It is a young adult horror story about a teenage girl who notices that there is something strange about her new town. The novel is the first part of the Narrowdale series and its sequel – Moth to a Flame – is planned for release later this year.
Amy immediately takes a disliking to her new home. She’s used to living in LA and, in comparison, Narrowdale is just boring. It’s so quiet, most of the other students in the school are unfriendly and the air conditioning in her house doesn’t even work. Yet as she explores the town she begins to realise that behind Narrowdale may not be as innocent as it first seemed.
Every night, Amy has the same dream. She’s pursued in the night by a shadowy stalker and wakes up as he catches her. The only problem is, her dream stalker’s eerie whistling follows her out of the dream, seeming to come from right outside her window. A whistling that the rest of her family can’t hear.
As Amy’s dreams grow more frightening, she starts to wonder if they’re trying to tell her something and researches missing person reports in her area. However, she does not realise how dangerous Narrowdale is. People who explore the town’s mysteries too closely tend to disappear and, in trying to uncover the identity of her stalker, Amy might just be sealing her fate…
I’ll freely admit that I was not hooked on Sleepless from page one. For the first few chapters, I found Amy to be absolutely insufferable. She’s one of those superficial female characters who only seem to have two interests (Boys! Clothes!) and seems to cry at the drop of a hat. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think that characters of this sort are necessarily bad but it’s still sometimes hard to root for them. While Amy did become a lot more likable once she started to make friends and find herself, I found her to be a very frustrating character in the early chapters when she’d be on the verge of tears because she was so lonely one minute and snapping at the people who tried to befriend her the next.
Yet, even in the early chapters, Sleepless started to grip me. The town’s underlying creepiness manifests itself through tiny isolated incidents that cause you to pause and think “hang on…something’s wrong with that statement”. There’s the fact that there are road blocks and security patrols around an otherwise ordinary town. Or the strange lady who complains to a shop assistant that her clothes don’t repel cats. Or the headmaster who vanished into the ether after going to investigate an noise in the school music room. All of them are sinister little oddities that the people of Narrowdale take as being par for the course but strike both Amy and the reader as being a cause for concern.
The tone of Sleepless falls somewhere between Welcome to Nightvale and Higurashi When They Cry in terms of its blending of the paranormal and the mundane. The novel itself is very well written, with only a few noticeable grammatical errors. Omer did, however, make the strange choice to entirely write the novel in present tense which didn’t really work for me. This is entirely a personal preference but I’m not a huge fan of the present tense – I just find it a little clumsy and generally unnecessary as it didn’t add anything of note to the story.
The eBook version of the novel also contained the rather unique gimmick of containing live links to Amy’s blog. You don’t need to read these to fully appreciate the story but they did add a little more depths and a sense of realism to the tale. However, I was kind of disappointed that there wasn’t more of these entries. I think that there were only perhaps four links to Amy’s blog in the whole book and most of these were towards the start of the story. I personally would have liked for them to be evenly spaced throughout so the reader could better see how the events of the story were effecting Amy at different stages of her nightmare.
The structure and pacing of Sleepless was utterly excellent, with the tension and creepiness mounting throughout. Insignificant things that Amy learned at the start of her stay in Narrowdale turned out to be vitally important later on while other things (particularly some of the seemingly meaningless information that Edgar gives her) seemed to have no importance, leading me to wonder if its value will only become apparent in the sequel. I was a little disappointed in the climax, as the eventual reveal as the cause of Amy’s nightmares was not as supernatural as I had hoped, but the final chapters hint at some terrible event that will befall the town in the near future, leaving me very curious to discover what will happen next.
In terms of its cast, I felt that Sleepless did incredibly well as its core characters were very varied in terms of personality. While there were a couple of standard young adult stereotypes (such as Jasmine and Carley the bitchy rich girls), most of the cast were very well rounded and even those that didn’t get a lot of page time (such as Peter the security guard) felt as though they may become more important later on.
In particular, I thought that Amy’s two friends were fantastic. I really liked Coral (she reminded me of Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and thought that her reactions to her overbearing parents helped to clearly show the motivations behind her actions and attitudes. Shane was also a fun character – I loved his deadpan attitude towards Narrowdale as it made it distinctly unclear as to how much he claimed about the town was actually true.
Even Amy, for all her faults, became more likable by the halfway point of the novel. As soon as she stopped trying to become the coolest person in school and became more obsessed with uncovering the mystery behind her dreams, she actually became a halfway decent female lead, showing incredible resourcefulness and bravery (even if she did behave incredibly stupidly at times).
As Sleepless is only a very short novel, I don’t have all that much more to say about it. While it was a little slow to start and had a bit of a weak climax, Sleepless managed to present a truly intriguing account of a very sinister town. The characterisation was strong and the novel’s creepiness did have a way of working itself under my skin. This novel wasn’t perfect but it has left me curious to discover how the story will develop in Moth to a Flame. I really look forward to venturing into Narrowdale again in a future review.
Sleepless can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk