Dorothea Dreams, Suzy McKee Charnas’ fifth novel, contains several fantasy elements—the ghost, the odd connection between Dorothea and Ricky, and the mysterious power of Dorothea’s wall collage. Ricky believes that Dorothea’s finishing of the collage drew both him and the ghost to her. Only Dorothea sees the ghost, mostly in her dreams, but she needs Ricky’s help to understand the ghost’s messages. At one point Dorothea speculates that the ghost is one of Ricky’s ancestors who is trying to send a message to Ricky through her. Only after seeing the ghost’s face does she recognize herself and realize that the ghost is an incarnation of herself in an earlier life. When Dorothea draws an inkwell the ghost used in her dreams, Ricky recognizes it as one he saw in France, a country Dorothea has never visited, at a museum too small to have a catalog. Except for this striking inkwell, it might be possible to dismiss the ghost as the product of a particularly vivid imagination.

The novel, then, subverts the conventional ghost story. In a sense, Dorothea is haunted by her own ghost, an unusual plot twist. Although he means well, the ghost is pitifully inept. He is quite surprised to learn that Dorothea is not, in fact, his son, and he gives terrible advice.

The parallel story of the Cantu family raises the issues of Chicano identity and community. Roberto feels alienated from white culture to the extent that he quit school, and...

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