Feb 1, 2022 | Pulp Horror

Dream Date
by Sinclair Smith

© 1993 by Donna Smith. Cover Art not credited.



Spoiler-Free Review:

Dream Date was stronger in concept than it was in execution. I really liked the ideas that Sinclair Smith was playing with here. There were some genuinely creepy moments, and there was even an example of a good boyfriend. That’s a rare find in these books. Katie’s journey was relatable for me, and I could see that being the case for a lot of teenagers. I was once painfully shy myself. That being said, Katie was quite bland for the main character. I wish she had a hobby or something that she felt passionate about. Heath felt like he was based on an awful person that the author knew. He had more than a few moments where he made my skin crawl; reminded me at times of Killgrave in Jessica Jones at the best of them. I wish he had been a bit more dynamic, but he still worked well as a villain. I also really wanted the dream space to be more imaginative. It was a missed opportunity to get surreal, which could have given this book a sense of atmosphere. I’m also not the biggest fan of third-person narration with tons of italic first-person thoughts, but that could just be me. The ending worked aside from one minor contrivance I’ll save for below the jump. I didn’t love it, but it worked. Dream Date may have over-promised with its ideas and under-delivered with the details, but it was still an enjoyable read.

Score: 3


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Observations & Spoilers:

Katie is new to town, just like the vast majority of main characters in these books tend to be. I can’t really blame the authors for doing this; it’s the perfect setup for destroying a character’s worldview. Katie is no exception. She is really shy and dresses very conservatively. She’s a good student and has flown under the radar her whole life. She’s never been one to ruffle people’s feathers, but she’s grown sick of herself. She has a crush she can barely form words around. She wants to be more than who she has been; she wants to be seen. I found this struggle relatable to a point. I mean, she wasn’t exactly gay and full of rage like I was at her age, but that’s beside the point. The point is this: sometimes if you’re not careful, you end up getting exactly what you think you wanted.


Everything changes when Katie meets Heath Granger in her dream one night. He makes her feel beautiful. She wakes up feeling refreshed and glowing. She wears her hair down and a more provocative dress to school. People notice, especially Jason who she has a mega crush on. She even gets invited to a party! Things are going great and it’s totally going to last, right? The next time Heath shows up in her dream, he seems more controlling and insecure. He wants Katie to love him and only him. He also seems to know things about Katie that she’s never told him, which scares her. She dismisses it all as just a dream until Heath calls her on the phone while she’s awake. Or was she awake? Katie’s sense of what’s real and what’s a dream starts coming into question. This is one of the stronger elements of the book. I love it when a protagonist can’t trust themselves.


Katie starts sleeping more and more, but her energy just feels drained. It is as though Heath is feeding on her. She starts sleeping through alarms. Her parents are starting to notice. She gets burned by scalding water in the shower and finds a note from Heath in the bathroom mirror. She has a great date with Jason, but when they’re about to kiss in his car the radio and car horn start blasting. Katie knows it was Heath, so she starts to take the initiative to get rid of him. She decides she needs to prove that Heath is real, and tries to leave her dream with a piece of Heath’s writing. She’s successful, but Heath is furious about it. He starts a fire with her bedroom lamp and the paper burns up. Katie loses her proof but learns something valuable: Heath really doesn’t want anyone else to know about him. Katie thinks that little fact might be what allows her to get rid of Heath for good.


Katie begins to identify the different sides of Heath’s personality. The cool confident side, the sweet pleading side, and the straight-up nasty side. All of her dreams take place at her house, nothing ever changes. She decides to push her boundaries and get him to go across the road in the dream, but he refuses. She tries to make a run for it, but she falls into a void of nothingness and wakes up. She manages to get a recording of Heath’s voice, but he figures out what she did and destroys the tape and the recorder. Just as things seem like they couldn’t get any more hopeless, Heath takes things to another level. He pulls Katie into a dream while she’s in the middle of class, just to show her that he can. His power is growing. Katie’s teacher asks her in front of the whole class if she’s on drugs, which is so tone-deaf it’s funny. These were the times of D.A.R.E. still being a thing, so a stuffy old male teacher asking this in the early 90s is completely believable.


Katie’s grades begin to slip. Her guidance counselor is concerned. She decides to stay awake for as long as she can to keep Heath away. She pulls two all-nighters and writes a great paper, but sleep is an inevitable thing. When she finds herself back in the dream, Heath tells her that staying awake just makes her dream more and makes him stronger. The science on this is questionable at best, but it works regardless of its truth. All that matters is that Katie believes it. Heath’s motives start to become clearer. He is not only sapping her energy when she dreams, he is a parasite who wants to take control of the host. The more he wares her down, the harder he is to resist. This is when Katie’s parents conveniently go on vacation. It’s part of what we can expect to happen in these books. Parents move their kids to a new town and then almost immediately go on vacation without them. How else would our protagonist be alone in the house for the climax?


Katie can’t tell anyone what’s happening because it’s impossible to prove. Who the hell would believe her? She starts researching dreams for clues and information to fight back, but Heath’s personality starts showing up more and more. Kate starts ending up in places she doesn’t remember going. When she’s in public, Heath’s voice will speak for her. Jason gets into a car crash that she knows was Heath’s fault. She finally gets her big break when she finds a picture of Heath in her friend Raquelle’s sister’s yearbook. It turns out that Heath was a really nasty guy that dated a friend of Raquelle’s older sister. He was really sweet at first, but then things got ugly. He died in a motorcycle accident on his way to confront her. The girl had lived in the house Katie lives in now. It’s all starting to make sense. Sort of. I had been hoping for a better backstory for Heath if I’m being honest.


Katie has an “Aha!” moment and figures out what she will need to do. She just needs to convince Heath to bring her back into the same dream again. She finally pleads with him when she knows he’s listening. She begs him to meet her just one last time in the dream space before he takes over her body completely. She strokes his inflated ego to seal the deal, and he agrees. People who are deeply insecure but project over-confidence are usually easy to manipulate in this way. Reminds me of a certain former president with an unflattering haircut. The point is that it works. Heath and Katie meet back up in the original dream space, and she waits for her moment.


She waits until Heath is especially vulnerable and snags his tiger pendant. If you’re like me, you might be wondering “wait, where the fuck did that tiger pendant come from?” This was something that needed to be introduced way earlier on in order to have the importance that it did. Anyway, Katie gets it and makes a run for the road that Heath doesn’t want her to cross. He chases her on his motorcycle which suddenly appears. He misjudges and flies over Katie, throwing him out into the road. She hears his screams as he burns in the fiery crash from years earlier. And then Heath is gone. Katie woke up and everything is normal again. Things are good with Jason and, more importantly, she has learned how to stand up for herself.


I thought Heath needed a more interesting origin. I did like that he was just a sad miserable ghost and not some all-powerful being. It made him almost pitiful. But I thought his back story was forgettable and very one-note. I wish it had been something weirder, just like I wish the dream sequences were more playful. There was also an unexplored queer/trans theme of Heath taking over a girl’s body; it would have been way ahead of its time if it had tried and succeeded on that front. I also think the story would have been better served if Heath were less obvious in showing his nasty side. If he was a better manipulator, it would have been a better reinforcement of the lessons Katie had to learn by the end. Heath being as transparently vile as he was made him easy to stand against. Had Katie been more conflicted internally about Heath, it would have better suited the arc of her growth. This serves as a pretty good example for understanding the difference between story and plot. The story was about Katie’s journey from a quiet girl to a ghost killer; the plot was about how she had to fight against Heath.


So how do I feel about Dream Date in the end? I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. It was more good than bad. There were some really fun ideas in here that I wish had been executed better. I wasn’t a huge fan of the author’s narrative voice, but not so much so that I couldn’t read it. It was also a nice break in style after reading several Fear Street books in a row. I will be back with a new post next week!


Score Card:

For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each.
I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are:
Concept: the strength of the overall idea
Execution: the mechanics of storytelling
Character: the protagonists, antagonists, and villains
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: subversion and reliance on genre tropes


Concept: 2/2
The concept was cool and opened the door for some really fun subject matter to play with. I like how Heath felt different from your typical ghost. There was also an unacknowledged gender swap going on as he started taking over. The ideas here are strong.

Execution: 1/2
I wanted more of a range of weird when it came to dreams. It felt like a missed opportunity from a creative standpoint. I also didn’t love the narration (third-person with lots of first-person thoughts). I wish it would have just been in first-person for the amount that it was used.

Character: 1/2
Katie’s character journey was a relatable one. Heath went from being charming to being a creep pretty quickly, and I guess I wish there was more back and forth. I think it might have worked better if Heath was a girl and playing the best friend angle. 

Intent: 1/2
There were some good scares. I liked that Smith played with sleep deprivation, blurred the lines of what was real, and created a real monster that literally could not be outrun. What was lacking was the atmosphere and the willingness to take some real risks. Maybe it just didn’t click with me, but this narrative felt safer than it should have.

Originality: 1/2
Like most of these books, there were some fresh takes and some familiar tropes. I thought this took some unique approaches. It felt fresh at times, stale at others. Frustrating because this almost could have been a 2/2.



Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
Christopher Pike’s The Midnight Club


Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #31: Night of the Living Dummy II



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