Dreamland Social Club

Dreamland Social Club from First Day Films on Vimeo.

Some Kind Words…

Dreamland Social ClubSTARRED REVIEW: “Altebrando provides exceptional depth in both the setting and the motley cast of Coney Islanders, teen and adult, living and dead…. The result is a memorable tale of personal growth and acceptance that will make teens eager to join a Dreamland Social Club of their own.”Kirkus Reviews

“A wonderful book, a story of secrets and memory, of terrible loss and hard truths, of nighttime adventures with a boy who comes this close to kissing you… and how a girl finds her own path to belonging.” -Judy Blundell, author of What I Saw and How I Lied, winner of the National Book Award

“Tara Altebrando makes the bizarre, sensational and sad story of Coney Island seem vital and urgent-whether you have ever been there or not. An entirely strange, wonderfully romantic, and surprisingly political tale.” -E. Lockhart, author of Printz Honor Book The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and The Boyfriend List

“A boardwalk fantasia of mermaids, dwarves, bearded girls, contortionists, and beautiful tattooed boys. This charming, sea-salty book stays with you like a half-remembered dream-the kind you wish would never end.” -Natalie Standiford, author of Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters and How to Say Goodbye in Robot.

“Palpable without being melodramatic, Jane’s longing is well-wrought, as is the supporting cast of teenage dwarves, giants, and other Brooklyn natives, including a love interest for Jane. The mysteries Altebrando (What Happens Here) weaves into her story (what is the Dreamland Social Club? what iconic Coney sites do the keys Jane finds unlock? why is the carousel horse chained to a radiator in their living room so important?) will keep readers engaged…[T]his is a languid, introspective novel about a search for identity and meaning; against the backdrop of impending gentrification and development, both Jane and Coney Island itself are caught between the pull of the past and the uncertainty of the future.”—Publishers Weekly

How the idea for DREAMLAND SOCIAL CLUB came into being:

Some time in the late 1990s, a friend of mine—Steve—who was born and raised in Brooklyn, told me about Coney’s history as a beach resort with all these crazy amusement parks–Luna Park, Steeplechase Park, and Dreamland. These were no Six Flags, I tell you. The rides simulated trips to the moon and submarine voyages and boat rides through hell. They recreated the Boer Wars and the Jonestown Floor and put on a show where they set a tenement fire and then put it out. There were small “cities” populated by midgets, and premature babies, in addition to “savages” from around the world, were put on display. Millions upon millions of people went to these amusement parks, people who’d never even seen a light bulb before. You can imagine—or at least I tried to—their state of mind when they saw a million lights lighting up Luna Park. Then one by one, the parks burned down, or got shut down, and Coney was never the same.

Right now—apart from some bursts of recent redevelopment—Coney Island is about as far from a thriving beach resort neighborhood as you can get without taking the beach away. It’s totally run down with abandoned lots and burned out homes, even in spite of years and years—decades upon decades—of attempts by New York City government and private businessmen to reinvigorate the place. Battles rage over what businesses should be allowed to stay and what ones should leave to make room for newer, shinier attractions.

So here I am, in the 1990s, fascinated by Coney’s history, when another friend, Shawn, suggested a day trip to Coney and reminded me to pack my swimsuit. The idea of actually going SWIMMING at Coney Island had never even occurred to me—even though I’d grown up across the harbor on Staten Island. But I put my suit on and in I went, and I waded out past everyone else int he water and turned around to look at the shore and something weird happened. I know this will sound kooky, but it was almost as if I could SEE the old amusement parks there. Like they’d left some kind of imprint in the skyline. It felt, I dare say, magical, to be standing there in the water that millions of people over the years had swam in, while visiting the magic that was Old Coney. When I rode the F train home with sandy feet and a damp swimsuit after taking a dip, I felt my view of New York—and its history—and of myself had been transformed.

Many moons later, when DREAMLAND SOCIAL CLUB was not yet a vague idea, I met a fella named Nick and we went on our first date to Coney, going on the Cyclone within the first ten minutes of getting there and sipping beers on the boardwalk outside Ruby’s Bar, an oddly lovable dive bar and definite Coney institution. Within the year, we got engaged—on Coney’s Wonder Wheel. We now have two daughters, and we take them out to Coney Island for beach fun and Nathan’s Hot Dogs all the time. Those  trips—in addition to the constant barrage of headlines in recent years about the redevelopment, such as it is, of Coney Island—eventually contributed to the birth of the idea for DREAMLAND SOCIAL CLUB. I hope you like it.