Dawnland Reviews

“Occasionally a book burns into your occipital lobe unable to leave you. How do you stop longing for something you can never have? Dawnland is a poignant reminder that the longings inside of us never go away. Tess Callahan killed me softly with this book. My heart is still in her hands…”


~ Tarryn Fisher, NY Times Bestselling Author of The Wives and Good Half Gone. 4-18-24


“Tess Callahan works magic in her novel DAWNLAND, writing with mesmerizing lyricism and wisdom about an extended family’s fraught week on Cape Cod. On the eve of their widowed father’s second marriage, two brothers as different as night and day gather with their wives and children for an annual vacation by the ocean that turns out to be anything but mundane. DAWNLAND is a deeply intelligent story about marriage, parenting, adolescence, and the challenge of reckoning with one’s choices. I loved it.”

~ Karen Dukess, author of The Last Book Party

“Tess Callahan writes with furious urgency about yearning and desire. As family secrets are gradually revealed, the reader begins to glimpse how we are all complicit in the dance. Emotionally powerful, Dawnland explores questions of betrayal, guilt and loss, and the high cost we must pay for genuine freedom. The ending will stay with you long after you turn the final page.”


Alan Watt, LA Times bestselling author of Diamond Dogs and The 90-Day Novel


“An exemplary tale of love and betrayal that spans the years in this sprawling continuation of April and Oliver’s stories. With characters’ layered histories and new family dynamics we are propelled through a weeklong family vacation full of with wisdom, regret, and the gradual untangling of time lost. The diction, the prose, the character dynamics… you’ll hear me talking about this one for a long while to come.”

– Hannah, Bookwormstalk, 3-25-24

Do not hesitate; in the moment between emotion and decision/action, an entire world may be lost. That loss is one of the themes of this shattering book, so…do not hesitate.

Find yourself a copy (release date 16 July 2024) and let yourself drown in the churning net of Callahan’s characters, their relationships, and the rich, tidal landscape she conjures. You will not want to come up for air.

I was pinned to my chair by this book for hours—I ignored my teenage sons and my husband and my dog (they are fine). Dawnland sandblasted its way past the sounds of men rebuilding the roof of my home—even that one guy who kept tapping out “shave-and-a-haircut…”, then left my family hanging without the last two beats, the men in my life looking up at the ceiling in bewilderment. I did not care about the last two beats. It is a difficult job, being a roofer. If he needs to leave us hanging, so be it. He may not even be thinking of us at all. People are going to do what they need to do—and that’s another one of Callahan’s themes.

It may be of interest to know several things about me: I read widely and indiscriminately, but shun books that feature “romance” in favor of horror; I have been privileged enough to spend three weeks every summer for the past decade in Cape Cod (the titular “Dawnland”); I adore Anna Karenina; Hozier and Annie Lennox singing “I Put a Spell on You” is one of the best performances ever (fight me!), and my favorite animal is the Great White Shark. If you see contradictions in that list, welcome to my brain—that thing that got keelhauled by this book. All of these facts or loves are in harmony with this story. I feel as if I now own an entire bespoke wardrobe—and you will too, even if your list looks different from mine (Good Lord, I hope it does, for your sake!).

Dawnland is about love of all kinds—romantic, doomed, familial, fatalistic, erotic. It is about damaged people standing on cliffs both literal and metaphorical, and how music can slip a wedding ring off as quick as you please—with only a little pain at the knuckle.

Somehow, this book made cynical ol’ me dog-ear pages with lines like “still young, she had somehow believed love was a thing that happened to you like rain.” I loved that line because I feel as if the character who thought it, the multilayered April, was a real person. I was happily hijacked by musical Oliver, who, like me, thinks “the threshold spaces are where the juice comes through. Terror is the price of admission.” One ticket, please.

The book reveals the secrets of one family with great patience and inexorable weight; I particularly enjoyed the red herring (yes, I mean the pun) of the coffee-table book entitled “Secrets of the Sea,” which is turned by an unknown hand to showcase different creatures as the family vacation moves forward, day by fatal day.

Callahan does not hide in motifs, however. She comes out swinging for the bleachers by addressing alcoholism…

“Here’s the thing: Drinking is like a box of bonbons. If the first one doesn’t satisfy you, the second one never will…it was pointless to bring up booze. An animal trapped in barbwire will snap if you try to help it. Yet ___ believes himself free. He drinks to prove it.”

…or the terrible beauty of chosen isolation (btw, if you are a W.B. Yeats or Rumi or Robert Pinsky fan, you will love this book: Callahan is clearly a poetry hound)…

“Far below, the wind shears off the tops of combers, hurling spray in billowy manes. No one will come for her. She is alone. This is what it feels like to have no name, no age, no gender, no history.”

…the pain of not sharing one’s art with others…

“Our minds do all kinds of things to keep us feeling small and numb, because if we had any idea how big we really are, it might blow our circuits.”

…and the debt all of us owe to the original inhabitants of the land upon which we cast our little shadows…

“(Dawnland) is the Wampanoag name. This is their land, after all. They’re the People of the First Light…They helped the settlers survive their first bleak winter on the Cape, and then, in only three years, ninety percent of the Wampanoag died from diseases they had no immunity to. They called it the Great Dying. Bones everywhere. Nine out of ten people. Picture that. Of all of us here this week, only one would survive. And who would want to be that person?”

What follows that piece of dialogue is a story of incredible pathos. I will not detail it here, but it might be my favorite scene. Callahan honors the First Nations at the beginning, in this scene close to the middle, and at the end of the novel.

Close to the end, April asks a question I have struggled with my entire life: “Why is it so hard to live without hurting people?”

If you have read this far, thank you for helping me process this book. Since Covid, I have not been able to read as quickly as I once did—until the Dark family came into my life.”


~ Elizabeth Barbato, author of Elpenor Falls, 3-19-24


Wow, this book really impressed me! I finished it in 1 day, I was so hooked. The writing is beautiful, and conjures such vivid and symbolic imagery. The characters are so well fleshed out that they feel real, and I loved the character development. Everyone is flawed and nuanced, there’s no ‘bad’ or ‘good’ stereotypes – just typical complicated humans. This book is a wistful, reflective, heart warming and yet heart breaking examination of the human experience. What is it to love? What is it to choose who we love? How will these decisions change the course of our lives? What ripples will they set in motion? So moving and so gripping.”

~ Iona Carys, i_own_a_book

What a whirlwind of a journey this story took me through. I was so happy to be back into the captivating and complex world that is April and Oliver. It took great lengths for me to put this book down. I had to know how they healed from and what’s happened since the conclusion of book 1 (April & Oliver). Dawnland was filled with heartache and twists which you can always expect from Tess Callahan’s lyrical writing and innate story telling ability. From the start, the prologue (as always) never fails to draw me in and set a tone of urgency to devour the rest of the book. The ending left me wanting more, I would give up dairy (queso runs through my veins) to read a book 3 all about two of my favorite (and equally frustrating) characters. Rating: 5/5


~ Julisa Bosquez, Goodreads