I’m so thrilled to welcome J. R. Johansson to the blog today! Jenn was also kind enough to answer some questions, so keep reading after the book review for my interview with her.
Genre: YA Psychological Horror
Release date: June 11 2013
Source: ARC from author
In a word: nail-biting, page-turning, terrifying and heart-pounding craziness!
Where had I been last night? And the night when my window was left open? Had I snuck out that night as well? I closed my eyes and focused on keeping myself upright, on keeping my lungs breathing in and out as my brain flew into a state of total panic. What was happening to me? My life had become like watching myself in someone else’s dream.
I really had no idea what to expect when I started reading Insomnia, and sometimes that’s the best way to experience a book. I knew what the basic plot was, but I didn’t realize that the many twists and turns would keep me up late flipping pages. The story is a combination of supernatural mystery and down-and-dirty psychological thriller, and it’s not always easy to tell these elements apart. One of the things I loved about the book was how unpredictable it was, and just when I thought I had things figured out, the author took the story in a completely different direction. I won’t give away very much of the plot, because you are going to want to watch the story unfold without any spoilers.
Parker is very tired. For the past four years, he has been unable to sleep. Instead, he spends all night trapped in other people’s dreams—specifically, the last person he makes eye contact with before he goes to bed. Because he’s always so exhausted, his friends think he’s sick and his mother thinks he’s doing drugs. Parker keeps the real reason for his haggard appearance to himself, because who’s going to believe him? But one day, he meets a girl named Mia whose dreams are so peaceful that he is actually able to fall asleep in them, and he wakes up the next day feeling rested for the first time in years. Mia turns out to be the new girl in school, but catching her eye every evening proves to be almost impossible. Parker doesn’t want to lose his new-found ability to sleep, so he makes it his mission to get as close to Mia as he can—even if she doesn’t want him to.
Johansson slowly builds momentum as Parker’s desperation grows. When Mia receives threatening emails, notes that thrust her back into a terrible memory from her past, Parker is more determined than ever to figure out who is trying to scare Mia while keeping his friends safe and trying to get some sleep.
Insomnia has so many layers, and it was refreshing to read a story with lots of action that offers the reader more than just surface thrills. The characters are so well done that I liked them all, even the ones you’re not supposed to like! Parker’s best friend Finn was one of my favorites. Finn is one of those supportive friends that will do anything for you, and lucky for Parker, Finn is right there when he needs him most. I also loved Finn’s sister Addie, the girl who Parker’s known his whole life, but who he’s starting to see in a different light now that she’s all grown up. And of course there is Mia, who is really the innocent of the story, a girl who gets caught up in the middle of something she doesn’t understand. When Parker goes into her dreams, he inadvertently uncovers a tragic event in her past, and he realizes he’s not the only one with secrets to hide.
I also loved the way romance was integrated into the book. We are listening to the story from Parker’s point of view, after all, and Johansson very smartly keeps the romantic entanglements subtle so they don’t overpower the suspenseful parts of the story. For this reason, Insomnia will appeal to both male and female readers.
And I can’t end this review without talking about Parker’s ability to go inside other people’s dreams. On the surface this idea seems a bit out there, but you need to suspend your disbelief and just go with it. Since this is the first book in a series, not everything is explained, which is a good thing because it makes the story exciting, but a bad thing too because this lack of explanation might frustrate the reader. But I loved this idea, as illogical as it sounds, and I almost wish I could watch other people’s dreams. Johansson uses Parker’s ability to create some really interesting situations; for example, after watching one dream, Parker is compelled to try to help a woman who is being abused by her husband.
The last half of the book is non-stop action and a dark and creepy trip into the unpredictable land of nightmares. Even the reader will start to question what is real and what is simply a dream. Although much is resolved, there are still some surprises and a cliff hanger of sorts that will make you wish Book 2 was already out. For fans of horror and suspense who enjoy a splash of romance, Insomnia is a must-read.
Many thanks to the author for supplying a review copy! Note: the quote above is from an uncorrected proof, and may be different from the finished version.
This review is part of the Debut Author Challenge 2013, hosted by Hobbitsies.
And now, I’m so happy to have Jenn answer some of my burning questions. Welcome to Books, Bones & Buffy, Jenn!
Thank you, Tammy! I’m so happy to be here! I love your blog and was so excited you wanted to have me stop by!
First, an obvious question. Have you ever had insomnia yourself? Is that possibly what propelled you to come up with such a unique story concept?
Haha, good question. Actually, not until very recently. The last month I’ve been struggling a bit with insomnia for the first time. I think it might have to do with stress and excitement over the coming release. Or Parker might be trying to get even with me for everything I put him through in the book:) The idea for Insomnia came to me one morning when I woke up after a particularly weird dream. I started thinking, “I wonder if other people have dreams like that?” and “What would other people think if they’d seen that dream?” Then it kind of evolved from there.
As a female writer, what made you decide to make your protagonist male, and to write from Parker’s point of view?
In the book I wrote before Insomnia (which shall be forever shelved, thank goodness), my favorite character by far was the male love interest and the same was true for my readers. It intrigued me that I’d written this very, very interesting male character that in many ways was much better than my female lead. So, I decided just for fun to try the next book with a male protagonist and I really liked it so it stuck.
What kind of research did you do while writing Insomnia? The passages of the book dealing with sleep deprivation and hypnotherapy seem very well researched.
I knew a bit about both from psychology classes in college, but I did a lot of research on top of that to clarify everything. I even looked into some information about forms of torture that involve not allowing people to sleep. Every detail in the book about what can happen to the human brain without sleep is true…and pretty darn terrifying, if you ask me.
I loved all the twists and turns in Insomnia. You really keep the reader guessing! Does writing this type of plot require lots of outlining?
I do very broad outlines from the beginning and they get more and more specific as I get further into the book. I know how I want the book to end and all the major turning points before I ever start writing, but I stay flexible and I wing it if a better idea comes along.
What has your experience been like, being a debut author? How long did it take you to write Insomnia and find an agent/publisher? And did you do anything else before you started writing? (Sorry, that’s a bunch of questions all at once!)
The whole experience has been incredible. I did a reading at a conference a few weeks ago and was surprised when a few people gasped at the perfect moment while I was reading the first chapter. It was surreal to know I’d evoked that kind of response from them. Very cool:) I wrote Insomnia in about three months and then revised for three after that. It took just over a month to get an agent, and my road to publishing was a little bizarre because I sold internationally first, which was odd. That happened after about a month of submission. Before I started writing, I worked in both human resources and public relations. Haha, wow, big paragraph:)
We’d love to learn more about you! Please tell us three things that can’t be found on your website.
Fun! Let’s see. I have a car named Gidget, a hot tub named Paolo, and my husband is from Finland…sexy accent included.
OK, you might be the first person I’ve known who’s named their hot tub! Who are your favorite authors, and did any of them influence you to write Insomnia? Is there any other media you love (like movies or television) that had an influence in the creation of your book?
Haha, I think I name different ones every time I answer this question. I have so many favorite authors! Let’s see, a few for today: James Dashner, Helen Fielding and Jane Austen. I love TV and movies, but I’ve had to become a bit more selective because my schedule is pretty packed right now…Criminal Minds always gets me in the mood to write darker stuff and Eureka (which is off the air now and I’m still in mourning) always gets my brain surging with ideas.
You did something very smart with the ending of Insomnia, in my opinion: you left the reader satisfied, but you also leave us dying to find out what happens next. I’m not a big fan of cliffhangers, so I appreciated this. So, without giving away any spoilers, what’s next? How many books will be in The Night Walkers series? Are you currently working on the next book?
I’m glad you liked the way it ended. That’s exactly the response I was going for. Without any real spoilers, let’s say things broaden out a bit in the sequel. This first book deals exclusively with Parker’s inner circle and the people around them. The next branches out to include a wider view of what is happening to him and why. It’s everything from the first book, and then some. The series is set to be two books and I plan to end with a bang. I am currently drafting the next book and all I can say is…Hold on tight.
Great questions, Tammy! This was really fun. Thanks again for having me!
Thank you for such a great interview:)