The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien

By Ekta R. Garg

September 17, 2014

Rated: Borrow it

A young woman attending an elite boarding school for the arts discovers a dark secret about the institution. When she begins searching for details, she realizes that the secret encompasses more than she or her friends could ever imagine. Young adult author Caragh M. O’Brien brings readers this concept in her brand new novel The Vault of Dreamers that alternates between fascinating and puzzling.

Rosie Sinclair has received the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to study at The Forge School, the most prominent arts academy in the country. Teens come to Forge from everywhere to receive instruction and to grow in their chosen arts, and fierce competition to enroll and stay at Forge pervades the first-year students. The competition gets fueled by the fact that the school also comprises a popular reality show, and the votes of the viewing public decide who stays and who goes.

For Rosie staying on the show means the chance at a better life. The Forge School feels light years away from the boxcar in Arizona that constitutes the home where she and her family live. Her stepfather doesn’t have a job, and her mother works hard to support the family. Her half-sister, Dubbs, provides Rosie with motivation and a bright spot in an otherwise dismal life. When Rosie feels discouragement about her public rank, she thinks about Dubbs.

Rosie barely makes it past the big cut, and then she notices strange occurrences around the school. They bother her enough that she begins to investigate, despite breaking school rules to do so. What she finds out shocks her: the school administrators use the students in some type of experiment. Rosie knows the experiments run contrary to the image the administration wants to portray, and she also wants to stop them. She’ll just need to find a way to do it without losing her own self in the process.

Author Caragh M. O’Brien provides readers with a fascinating concept. She examines the idea of dreams and how scientists use those dreams. The result gives the book’s intended audience some interesting fodder for thought.

Unfortunately O’Brien’s narration leaves several gaps in the story. Rosie manages to get out at all odd hours to spy on people in her quest to find out what is going on. She receives the occasional reprimand about sneaking out but doesn’t really have to endure serious consequences. When administrators give her an ultimatum it feels forced, as if the plot required a point of tension and every other option had already been exhausted.

Also, the characters talk often about the reality show aspect of the academy, but the reality show doesn’t feel real. Rosie narrates the story in first person, which limits how much information readers can get, and because she devotes so much time to her experiences and her investigation the reality show gets pushed to the background. As a result readers get told several times about the importance of the show but don’t feel the impact of that importance.

Nevertheless, O’Brien gives her readers a story that might be difficult to believe in parts but is impossible to ignore in others. For those who persevere and gloss over the book’s flaws, they will reach an end that will captivate them. O’Brien doesn’t bow to social convention, and she refuses to employ closure for closure’s sake. For that The Vault of Dreamers deserves to be read.

I recommend this book for those who enjoy young adult dystopian novels and also those who like books that present interesting scientific concepts present as possibility.

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