Humans are restless beings. Throughout our history, we have traveled endlessly, exploring and then trading with whomever we found at the end of the trail. Most times it seems we were not content to simply go home again, but found reasons to stay in the new land and convert it to our way of thinking.

This ancient story plays out again in Dream Helper: A Novel of Early California, Willard Thompson’s work of historical fiction set in early Santa Barbara. Told mainly from the point of view of Cayatu, a young Chumash woman, the novel captures the dilemma faced by the Chumash as Spanish conquerors took over their ancestral home. By the time the story opens, the presence of the Spanish settlers and soldiers is indisputable. They will not be expelled, and show no signs of tolerating the existing Chumash culture. There seems to be no way for the local Chumash to keep their culture in the face of opposition from both the army and the Mission.

Dream Helper explores the interplay between these three groups as all come to grips with the changing face of coastal Santa Barbara. Each has its own unique vision of what that future should be. The hardships faced by the Chumash take center stage here. Readers familiar with the Scott O’Dell classics, Island of the Blue Dolphins and Zia, will already be aware that legal justice was not on the side of the Chumash. Thompson exposes this truth with more hard-edged details than O’Dell did. This honesty is to be valued highly, but the grimmer details make this novel unsuitable for younger readers.

Dream Helper
By Willard Thompson
ISBN 13: 9780979755200
320 pages
November 2007

The political manipulations between the Presidio and the Mission are also well dramatized. The two groups, despite being on the same “side,” were not united, and each grappled for control of the new territory. Whether the motives of either side were pure will be a hot topic for debate in any group that wishes to read this challenging novel. Local readers will also enjoy the accurate descriptions of the pueblo of Santa Barbara and will have no trouble visualizing the Presidio, Mission, Carpinteria beach area and other locations in local mountains and coastal areas.

Dream Helper is available at the Book Den, Chaucer’s Book Store, Tecolote Book Store, the Santa Barbara Presidio Gift Store, Casa de la Guerra gift store, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum and the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. It is also available online at, Barnes & Noble and Rincon Publishing.