A ride through one bad dream and another ... and another

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 March, 2010, 12:00am

By Malorie Blackman
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 978 0 385 61043 8

We've all had nightmares before, and most of us try to forget them as soon as we can. We wake up in a sweat, our heart pumping furiously, but we're safe in our beds, and that's the most important thing. Nightmares are just bad dreams and have nothing to do with our waking lives. Or do they?

Kyle is a teenager who has his own way of dealing with the nightmares that plague him. He puts on his tracksuit and trainers, heads outside and runs. Running is not just a way of keeping fit for Kyle. It's a way to stay alive and sane.

He runs for half an hour each morning. With problems between his mum and dad, running is the only time in the day when life makes sense. No one can make him feel hollow and angry when he runs. His parents' bitterness and his own bad dreams vanish and Kyle is alone, doing what he does best. For 30 minutes a day, life changes and he experiences exhilaration, not anxiety.

Malorie Blackman's The Stuff of Nightmares says it all in the title. This is a creepy and intelligent horror novel that takes the reader on a chilling trip as Kyle is forced to face the fears of people around him.

Blackman says the inspiration for the book was the nightmares she has experienced herself. Be warned! The Stuff of Nightmares could cause sleepless nights and is not recommended for younger readers or anyone with a nervous disposition.

The horror sets in as Kyle and his friends take a train to a town to see Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in the theatre. They bicker and banter just like any teens going on a day trip. The train speeds through the countryside and Kyle stares outside, unable to get the images of his warring parents out of his mind. Suddenly, there is a blast and the world goes black.

When Kyle comes to, he is lying on the train floor, seats and tables askew. His friends are lying still, limbs bent and clothing torn. Kyle quickly realises there has been a crash and, as he crawls around checking on his friends, something very frightening happens to his mind.

The terrified teenager finds that he can slip inside the minds of his injured friends and experience their nightmares and darkest fears. The book becomes a linked series of dark and striking short stories as Kyle shares others' bad dreams.

Fast-paced and as taut as stretched elastic, this is a book that only the brave-hearted will dare to read at night.

John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com