Middle-schooler Shane Johnson loves the sounds, action, and energy of basketball. On the court, he feels most whole and alive. After he is in a serious accident that leaves him in a coma for a month, Shane returns to basketball, but Travis Clark has taken over his position on the team. How will Shane regain that lost part of himself so that he no longer feels empty, helpless, and without a purpose? Now that he is on the road to full recovery, Shane is happy to be out from under the pain, anger, sadness, and stress that he thought would hover like a dark cloud over him and his family forever.

Shane’s best friend and hype man is Madoc (Doc) Hernandez. Doc dreams of being a famous filmmaker one day. Full of drama, he can tell stories that draw the listener in, yearning to hear more.

Rounding out the friend trio is Shane’s twin sister, Sadie, a talented artist. Together, the three provide a solid support system for one another in Daka Hermon’s middle grade novel, Nightmare King.

Once Shane returns to physical activity, he pushes himself to regain his status as a valuable asset to the basketball team. However, Shane allows Travis and his bullying remarks to get under his skin, making him feel insecure. Between the added physical exertion and the stress, Shane begins having the same nightmares he endured following his brain trauma. Afraid to sleep, Shane starts to believe the voices from his nightmares, voices which tell him that there is value in suffering, power in pain, and treasure in tears. All of the images from his dreams feel like pieces to a puzzle he needs to unscramble.

Because the pain feels private and because sharing it would represent weakness to him, Shane won’t use his support system, and soon he is disturbed in ways he can’t process. Eventually, nothing makes sense, and Shane begins to wonder what it means to be healed. Having so recently been totally dependent on others, Shane wants to handle this alone. After realizing he needs Doc and Sadie, the three concoct a plan to defeat “an ancient, evil, corrupt King in a supernatural showdown in a terrifying nightmare world” (283). Somehow, Travis also plays a role in this nightmare, and the foursome battle their way in what resembles the different levels in a video game.

Preying on their weaknesses and their vulnerabilities, the King taunts the tweens, telling them: “You question your purpose, if you deserve to be happy, to be recognized for your talent. . . . You feel invisible. Forgotten. You don’t know how you fit in with your family” (286). In order to conquer the King, the tweens must accept that nobody else determines their value or their worth. With self-acceptance and affirmation, they must stop wondering if they’re good enough or worthy in another’s eyes. This is especially difficult when the people they care about the most support them the least.

  • Posted by Donna

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