My scream implodes inside me. Mother looks back, sees the dagger lying there, grabs it. The thing howls in outrage. She's going to fight it. She's going to be alright. […] In one swift motion, she raises the dagger and plunges it into herself. (1.23)
Gemma's first vision is a nightmare, and one she can't let go of or understand after it comes true. This situation is what causes Gemma to feel such guilt and shame over her behavior and treatment of her mother for a long time afterward.
I'm in up to my shoulder when I feel something solid. It's stuck fast, and I have to pull hard to bring it into the light. It's a leather bound diary. (8.19)
Sometimes spirits can talk to Gemma through her visions, and the line between dreaming and awake, real and unreal, are totally crossed. Like in this scene, a vision makes Gemma actually walk through the woods, into a cave to retrieve a diary that she takes back to her room and keeps in her real life. So it doesn't just take place in her mind.
"Tell Mary to leave me alone. I don't want this power she's giving me."
"She's not giving you the power, miss. Just showing you the way."
"Well, I don't want to follow! Do you understand, Mary Dowd?" (8.31-33)
Often Gemma doesn't want power like this—it is scary to her and makes her feel even more foreign and stranger than she already does at Spence. She just wants to be normal.
My breath catches in my throat. A tingle starts in my fingertips. No. I won't be pulled under. Begone. (9.108)
She begins to gain some control over her new power, and can stop it from happening at inopportune moments. Sometimes, though, there is nothing she can do.
It's my mother, my mother here in this place, the grain of her dress real on my fingers. She breaks into a smile.
"Find me if you can," she says, and runs off.
Part of her hem catches on a tree branch but she tears free. I grab the scrap of fabric, tuck it into my bodice, and chase her […] (10.13-15)
Gemma's vision here is in a dream, but the torn bit of cloth appears in reality, so here is another moment when reality is blurred. This makes us wonder: If someone dies in Gemma's dream, does it happen in real life? Is she in danger each time she falls asleep?
Through the mist I chase her, till we're in the musty halls of Spence, up and around the endless stairs, down the hallway on the third floor where five class pictures hang in a row. […] I'm standing, alone, at the top, in front of the closed doors to the East Wing. (10. 15)
The main purpose the visions seem to serve is to give Gemma clues about what is happening to her and what her power is all about. In this passage, there are multiple hints about the mystery Gemma must solve.
It's a dream, only a dream. That's what I tell myself when I wake up […] But it felt so real. I put my fingers to my lips. They're not swollen with kissing. I'm still whole. Pure. (19.69-73)
Some dreams remain dreams, which is a good thing, for sure. Even though Gemma wishes her dream about making out with Kartik was true, she also would have a ton of consequences to suffer if it were. So phew—glad that there is still a dream-world boundary sometimes.
There are trees dripping leaves of green-gold and red-orange. The sky is a purplish blue on top of a horizon bathed in an orange glow, like a sunset that never fades. Tiny lavender blossoms float by on a warm breeze that smells faintly of my childhood—lilies and Father's tobacco and curry in Sarita's kitchen. (22.41)
In the realms reality is harder to define, since Gemma can smell, touch, see, and hear what she wants. If she wishes to change something, she can, because she accesses this world through her mind, like one does with dreams.
"What are the realms exactly?" I ask. […]
"A world between worlds. A place where all things are possible." […]
"It's where the Order came to reflect, to hone their magic and themselves, to come through the fire and be made new. Everyone comes here from time to time—in dreams, when ideas are born." She pauses. "In death." (22.62-64)
So are the realms definitely real because everyone visits them at some point?
"I'm afraid this isn't real. It is real, isn't it?" […]
"Reality is a state of mind. To the banker, the money in his ledger book is all very real, though he doesn't actually see it or touch it. But to the Brahma, it simply doesn't exist the way the air and the earth, pain and loss do. To him, the banker's reality is folly. To the banker, the Brahma's ideas are as inconsequential as dust." […]
"Does it seem real to you?" (22.85-88)
So reality is real to whoever believes in it, and if you think something is real, then it is. Do you agree?