Ben has an uncanny ability to jump between the dream world and the world of the living. Unfortunately, being a dream jumper has taken a toll on his sleep habits, so his mother brings him to a renowned sleep doctor.

The sleep doctor has been seeing an epidemic of strange sleep cases where patients fall asleep and don’t wake up. It turns out that these “ward Z” patients are stuck inside of the dream world, held hostage by the evil Erebus until Ben is able to break them out. And while the battle has been won by the end of the volume, the war is just beginning.

This story comes to readers, especially younger readers, with a satisfying snap. Older readers might roll their eyes at cliched Wise Man/Yoda character’s proclamation that pre-adolescent and boring Ben is the best dream jumper he has ever seen, but younger readers might use this moment to connect with their hero. Older readers might also bristle at the simplicity of the fight over the powerful Somni Stone that allows one to cross between dream and wakefulness with ease, but younger readers might be thrilled with the idea of such a powerful object.

Regardless of whether these tropes come across as tired or exciting, the fight scenes were brief, ended quickly, and felt lacking. Ben became too much of an expert at using his powers too soon, without any building or development of how he learned to use them and with too much finality. The bad guys in this volume came across as easily squishable instead of ferocious and cunning creatures.

Turnbloom draws his characters similarly to Judd Winick’s in HiLo and Lincoln Pierce’s in Big Nate. Ben and his female love interest Kaylee have oversized heads for their gangly limbs with more than a few hairs painted permanently out of place. Best friend Jake and sidekick Gabe are more rotund, and these depictions of diverse body types come across as affectionate. These decisions emphasize the inherent likability of his characters. His artwork mostly stays towards bright colors and large panels that feel familiar to children’s comics, but his aggressive use of black to color in shadows and roads gives the entire volume an uncanny feel, even in the waking world.

Since this volume ends with a lot of abrupt world-building and backstory, I’d recommend that librarians on a tight budget wait until the next installment or two before investing in Dream Jumper. I most certainly hope this series plays out strongly, and if it does, it will be a terrific addition to libraries where series like Amulet are already popular. However, there’s always the risk that the creators will dream a little too big for this story and give young readers something that doesn’t work as successfully.

Dream Jumper, vol 1: Nightmare Escape
by Greg Grunberg
Art by Lucas Turnbloom
ISBN: 9780545826037
Graphix, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

  • Amy Estersohn

    | She/Her Past Reviewer

    Amy Estersohn is a seventh grade English teacher at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY and the inheritor of a large classroom library. She has always been struck by the ability of graphic novels to convey a story that transcends written language alone. That story can be for developing readers, such as the time a five-year-old saw her reading Akira on the subway and snuggled next to her, insisting he “read” along, or it can be for proficient readers who want to explore a topic in more emotional depth, such as Don Brown’s depiction of a post-Katrina New Orleans in Drowned City. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MA from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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