Collecting all three volumes of Queenie Chan’s Original English Language manga, The Dreaming Collection (Tokyopop) is a hefty and largely satisfying gothic graphic novel aimed at teen readers. Set in an Australian boarding school isolated in the middle of the Outback, The Dreaming is one of the first OEL manga to be released in America — and, arguably, one of the most successful, with a 3-D feature adaptation reportedly in the works. Chan, an Australian/Chinese manga creator who has also worked in collaboration with Dean Koontz, is a skillful visual storyteller, capable of slathering on the atmosphere. She utilizes her bushland setting effectively, incorporating pieces of aboriginal folklore into her supernatural storyline, and at the end of the first volume even includes an appended overview of her setting for us egocentrically ignorant Yanks. Clearly she knows her audience.
The book centers on twin sisters, Amber and Jenny Malkin, who are sent to Greenwich Private College, presumably because their Aunt Jessie is headmistress there and can watch out for them. Yet as soon as the twins arrive, their aunt tells them she has to leave for three months, after warning the pair to not let the school’s creepy vice-principal, Mrs. Skeener, know that they are twins. “I told her you two sisters were born a year apart,” she explains, which right away ought to set off some warning bells, though our girls go along with the deception.
While Aunt Jessie seems a friendly enough sort, the actual teaching staff at Greenwich proves to be a harsh crew, tossing off demerits for the slightest rule infraction. Part of the reason for their strictness appears to be rooted in the school’s history: planted in the middle of nowhere, the old Victorian school has periodically seen a rash of schoolgirl disappearances, young students inexplicably wandering off into the bush. When the twins begin having shared dreams that appear to be about these missing students, Jenny, the more extroverted and less sensitive of the two, begins to investigate the school’s history.