The Dream Bearer by Walter Dean Myers, a novel about a young African American whose father might be crazy and whose brother starts using drugs, subtly explores how a young boy deals with the changing landscape of his family life.
“Reading” this book was a unique experience for me, precisely because I didn’t read it—I listened to it, on tape.
A few months I found a few old, ex-library copies of books on cassette at my library for $2 each. Since my car doesn’t have a CD player, I decided, on a whim, to try the audio books out.
The Dream Bearer was one of the ones I picked, for no particular reason, other than I liked the title.
David Curry’s father is suffering from what his mother calls “nervousness,” and his brother has started staying out late, getting irritable and acting strangely. As David’s world goes topsy-turvy, he meets Moses.
Initially, David thinks Moses is homeless, but the old man—who claims to be over 300 years old—says that no one is homeless; there are just some people who aren’t in their homes.
That line, repeated throughout the rest of the book, struck me (and David) as powerful and insightful. It’s not how most people think of the homeless, but it’s a valid observation. Everyone has a story. Everyone comes from somewhere.
The book, rather than discarding the homeless as failures or drains on society, gives the reader another way to think about them. Why aren’t they in their homes? What happened that drove them away? Why did they choose to leave?
Moses begins telling David about his dreams. The “dreams” are horrific accounts of violence against African Americans: a lynching; the capture of a person in Africa and his journey into slavery across the Atlantic; two men fighting while picking cotton, their frustration at their situation turned against each other.
David isn’t sure what to think about the dreams, but he listens regardless. Eventually, David realizes that these dreams, while violent and unpleasant, need to be kept alive. He also realizes he has his own dreams to bear, and that perhaps the only way to connect with his strangely-behaving father is through dreams, and understanding of them.
As I listened to the words of the book, the reader changing his tone, pitch and timbre for each character, I wondered what different things I might get out of the book had I physically read it, rather than listened to it.
Of course I can’t know that without reading the book, but the listening experience, especially considering the recurring theme of David listening to Moses’s dreams, made me feel as if I were in the same position as David, and the book was a dream that was now my burden to bear.
The burden the book places upon the reader is three-fold. First, it asks us to think about the violence committed against minorities. Second, it asks us to think about mental illness and how persons living with mental illness and their families have to adapt, and how scary it can be. Third, it shows us the heartbreaking way two people can grow apart because one of them makes bad decisions—in this case, to use drugs.
Myers does not force any of these burdens upon the reader. They are offered up, one sentence at a time, and the reader must choose whether or not to carry them. He does not judge or blame anyone or anything for the circumstances David faces. Nor does David judge or blame.
David takes Moses’s words and internalizes them. He carries them once Moses can carry them no longer, and he adds his own dreams to the collection.
Like David, I’ve internalized the words of the book. I’m not sure reading the book would have had the same profound effect on me that listening to it had. Regardless, I hold a greater understanding of the world around me—at least a little bit.
And I certainly plan on listening to more audio books!
Kelly Lynn Thomas is a writer obsessed with storytelling, tea, and Star Wars. Her day job is newspaper editor, but fiction and travel writing are her first loves. Read more at http://kellylynnthomas.com.