Book Reviews

Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera

Synopsis:

At night, Las Mal Criadas own these streets.

Nalah leads the fiercest all-girl crew in Mega City. That roles brings with it violent throw downs and access to the hottest boydega clubs, but the sixteen-year-old grows weary of the life. Her dream is to get off the streets and make a home in the exclusive Mega Towers, in which only a chosen few get to live. To make it to the Mega towers, Nalah must prove her loyalty to the city’s benevolent founder and cross the border in a search for a mysterious gang the Ashé Ryders. Led by a reluctant guide, Nalah battles other crews and her own doubts, but the closer she gets to her goal, the more she loses sight of everything—and everyone— she cares about.

Nalah must do the unspeakable to get what she wants—a place to call home. But is a home just where you live? Or who you choose to protect?

Review:

Tragically, as can happen if you take them on a random sheet of paper, I lost the notes I took on this book. It’s been over a week since I read it, but I will try my best nonetheless. This is one of the three star reviews that are rated this way because, while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t blown away. It’s definitely still worth a read, but it doesn’t jump out as much as other books I have read.

As the leader of one of the crews that secure the streets of Mega City, Nalah, better known as Chief Rocka, has fought long and hard to earn the prestige she has. Her crew is ranked right at the top, and now in Nalah’s mind there’s just one more step—to make it into the Mega towers. It’s difficult to get in, reserved only for the best. The ruler of Mega city herself lives there, and it is to Déesse that Nalah must prove her loyalty to first.

The ruler sends her on a mission to infiltrate a gang called the Ashé Ryders and bring back information. Nalah and her crew set out from the city to accomplish the task, but their path is riddled with obstacles and secrets and Nalah must figure out what she must do to give her crew a home—and what home really is.


If you are familiar with the dystopia genre, the plot of this book isn’t that special. There are a few select people with special privileges and the power, who maintain tight control on the remaining poor population. It isn’t a spoiler to say that along the way, Nalah begins to challenge the norms of the world she lives in, and wonder what is really right.

Something unique about the book, however, is that the city is ruled by a matriarchy. After the disaster that threw the world into chaos, women seized control, demoting men to the role of servers. Only women form the esteemed crews that keep order in the streets, while men work in clubs and support the opposite sex. This was an interesting change, as this put a twist on toxic masculinity and applied it to women.

Nalah knows she can show no weakness. She is tough, strong, and confident. But as is often the case, she’s soft on the inside. She wants her crew to get to the Mega towers because she wants them to be safe there, and to have a home. She genuinely cares about them. I especially enjoyed seeing her relationship with Truck—it wasn’t a perfect friendship, but it was heartwarming (and sometimes saddening) to see them navigate their loyalties to each other, and how Nalah struggled to decide when she could be a friend, and when she had to be the ruthless leader.

I think that one of the things that did take away from the story was how easy it was for the reader to see at first glance that the workings of this city were wrong. Instead of it being veiled and slowly revealed, I could see from the beginning exactly what was wrong. This made parts of the book feel slower—for I already knew it and had to watch Nalah realize it bit by bit.

The writing itself was a bit clunky and awkwardly written at times, and I wanted the side characters to be developed more.

One other thing that niggled at the back of my mind was that while the city seemed to have come into existence not too long ago (Déesse is still the original leader) the society already seemed so established. It made me wonder how all of this could have come about in such a short amount of time—unless I read it wrongly.

Before I end this, there was a point brought up in the book that I really enjoyed! Overall, this book had some lovely diversity. It’s #ownvoices because the author is Puerto Rican, and at least two of the characters were lesbian or bi (it wasn’t specified). The point brought up was how restrictive the gender roles in the book were—not just because there shouldn’t be only one role for men and women, but because of how unfriendly this is for transgender people. One of the side characters in this book was a trans woman, and it was a new aspect that I have not seen explored in dystopias before.

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