Book Review: Harmony Lee’s Within the Maples
Dreams have always fascinated me. They can be anything and seemingly come from out of nowhere. Sometimes they coincide with real-time personal events, while other times they seem to have nothing to do with anything. While I’m sure there’s some sort of explanation or meaning to most of them, I’m too lazy to put the research in and instead enjoy the overall mystique of these slumbering visions.
Raven Quinn, a 20-something who recently lost her parents to a car accident, is living in a decent apartment with a feisty roommate and working as a waitress at a pizza shop when she finds herself dealing with realistic night terrors. She has vivid memories of these dreams and wakes up in cold sweats, usually screaming. Someone is after her, though she’s not quite sure why. Some dreams are different, but most revolve around the person after her. Waking up leaves her exhausted, along with the daylong anxiety of what awaits her when she falls back asleep.
While she tries to make sense of the nightmares, Raven knows that she still needs to somewhat function in the real world. While she isn’t always successful (she is lucky to have an understanding employer who is fine with her taking a few days off with no notice when needed), she makes strides to better herself. Eva, her roommate, recommends an attractive psychologist, Dr. Benjamin Royce, who happens to live in the building. Eva, Raven’s rock, goes the extra mile and schedules the first appointment. Raven also meets Ethan Kyle, the building maintenance man who smells like Ivory soap and sawdust. The relationship turns romantic, though Raven isn’t aware that Ethan is married.
Raven’s nightmare scenes are descriptive and can be quite terrifying. Lee does a wonderful job of bringing these to life. Her use of italics to separate the dreams (as some start out realistically) does a good job of avoiding any type of reader confusion. The arc of the dreams seems incomplete, but this is the first of a trilogy, so I spent a lot of time telling myself that they would all come full circle at the end, even though Within the Maples ends with a question of whether or not the dreams are a reality.
I had a little bit of an issue with some unrealistic relationships between some of the characters. While the relationship between Raven and Ethan makes sense (even though it had an awkward beginning), I couldn’t wrap my head around the relationship either of them had with Benjamin. Ethan and Benjamin were already friends at the start of this story, but Ethan was also a patient. Benjamin provided both private and couples therapy to Ethan and his wife. A relationship like this is usually a no-no when it comes to doctors and their patients. Things can get too personal and messy, which turned out to be the case in this situation. I was fine reading about the personal relationship they had, but became uncomfortable when the psychological relationship was brought up. Raven and Benjamin’s relationship started out professional, but Benjamin always seemed a little too interested in her outside of appointments. They would happen to bump into each other or he would stop by the house to make sure things were okay. He took the time to research her life, discovering something that not even Raven knew. I was uncomfortable even before he became a caretaker for her. This didn’t sit right with me, though I’m wondering if it will make sense as the story in the other two books play out.
Lee has a strong writing style. Even with a lot going on, the plot was easy to follow and a lot of fun to read. I especially liked Lee’s use of dialogue, with intriguing conversations between the characters that help move the story along. The last few chapters are true page-turners, with an informative ending that immediately had me yearning for the second installment.