Some SPOILERS AHEAD
Well in short it sucks, in fact Ellie's life isn't much fun in general. She's gone from foster care to foster care with no one to really stick with her. In fact as she arrives at the military school a solider tells her to behave herself since he wouldn't be looking after her anymore as he has his own family to think about. Ellie points out that he could be there for her but he wouldn't. With having one of the few electronic devices available and a low tolerance for taking bullshit Ellie finds herself getting beat up by a couple of guys until a older girl arrives to even the odds. She tells Ellie that she should learn to trust others as it will make her life easier. Much later Ellie finds out too late that the girl picked her pocket and demands her property back. It's returned although the girl is amused by Ellie's guts.
This story is really well done managing to tie into the game and the world it created with a ease that's not often found when transferring from one media to another. The horror of the world around her is highlighted nicely without overdoing her reactions. Such as discovering a severed body part and later on having an encounter (her first?) with the infected. Ellie's fun quirky nature is also shown as she goes through a mall and gives her own POV on things that were made before her time. Things we often take for granted like being able to move around freely, playing video games and even how odd mannequin poses would be for someone that never saw them before.
There are a lot of shout outs to things mentioned in the game that Ellie mentions that fit seamlessly in the story. But the most important piece is a girl she talks about called Riley who wants to figure out another path for herself before she turns 16. This is pretty important since the government makes these kids take careers in their army at that age. Riley sees the rebel Fireflies as pretty heroic and is determined to join them. I was surprised that American Dream doesn't tell the tragic events the game revealed but I don't think it would be possible to do without it feeling rushed. The story is about the girls trying to discover what they want out of life and new beginnings. And well, as it turns out the other story apparently will be told in another game.
Another important introduction is Marlene the leader of the Fireflies. I was under the impression that Marlene knew Ellie longer based on what she tells Joel when she's actually been keeping tabs on her from afar for thirteen years. This is the first time their actually introduced and through a rather intense bout of confusion gets around to explaining she's a friend of Ellie's mother. All of this is news to Ellie who gets a letter from her deceased mother (she learns her name was Anna) and her switchblade. I truly enjoyed this book and hope we get more prequel stories. Maybe actually seeing the story behind Anna and Marlene? How Joel met Tess and Bill? Some stories with Tommy working with Joel, working with the Fireflies or meeting his future wife? It was a nice change of pace from the norm.