ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
“It’s a cruel, cruel world. And the people are the worst part”
Mark my words, this is going to be one of the biggest books that 2018 will offer, and it will be completely deserving of every award it will win. Dread Nation is the perfect mix of action and suspense, while always having oppression be at the forefront of the story. This book was thought-provoking, moving, intense, so very well written, and completely and absolutely enthralling. This book was nothing short of amazing and it’s one of the best things I’ve read this entire year.
Jane McKeene is a sixteen-year-old girl, who has never known a world where the dead don’t walk among humans. And I use the word “walk” to really mean that they are zombies that will bite you and make you into one of them to continue on their never-ending killing spree. They can be fast, they can be smart, but they will always be very deadly.
Jane grew up on a plantation in Kentucky, where her mother actually runs the plantation. Jane is biracial (black and white), but her mother tries to keep it a secret that Jane is her daughter. There are other women who help raise and take care of Jane, but once she turns fourteen she is taken to Massachusetts to attend Miss Preston’s School of Combat. And that’s where the story truly takes off.
“Keeping the peace in this country isn’t that hard, as long as nobody important dies.”
Just like actual history, even though slavery is abolished, white people come up with different ways to keep people of color as slaves, but just without the title. The blacks and Native children in this world have to go to combat schools to eventually protect the whites from zombies. Miss Preston’s School of Combat is actually one of the better schools, and Jane is learning to become an attendant, which means she will watch over a rich white woman and protect her at all costs upon graduating and/or purchase.
Jane isn’t sure if this is the life she wants, even though she doesn’t have many options. All she knows that she wants to get back to Kentucky and see her mother and the people she loves again. But Jane soon enters a world of conspiracy and sabotage, filled with people who warp religion to do their racist bidding. Jane then quickly realizes that humans are far more dangerous than the zombies that she’s been training to kill.
“The problem in this world ain’t sinners, or even the dead. It is men who will step on anyone who stands in the way of their pursuit of power.”
This story is told in two parts, and in a very unique way. Between each chapter there is a letter either from Jane or from her mother. This helps weave the story together, and lets you know more about Jane’s past and what will become of her future. My heart broke more and more as the correspondence went on, but I also found myself more and more desperate for more letters. I not only loved this story, but I love the way the story was told. I want to read everything by Justina Ireland.
This book mirrors the society we live in today and makes you think about all those uncomfortable topics that people would rather ignore and pretend do not exist. From prison systems, to black lives matter, to systemic racism, this book is going to make a lot of people uncomfortable, specifically white people. But it’s the kind of uncomfortability people need in this day and age when we are normalizing hate speech and passing it off as free speech. Where we are living in a world where white supremacists can rally and spread their hatred at no cost, but black people fear for their life when being pulled over by the cops. Our country cares more about trying to stop football players kneeling for that injustice than doing anything to actually fix it, while also trying to misconstrue their protests as something that it isn’t. We need this uncomfortability and, more importantly, things need to change.
The racial diversity in this is so important, too, because not only is this book unapologetically black, it also heavily talks about what it is like to be a black person that is light enough to pass as white. What it feels like to feel like you don’t belong in either community, because you’ll be reminded that you’re not “black enough” and because people will constantly remind you that you’ll never be white. I have a very close friend who talks to me about this, and it’s just something that is near and dear to my heart and I love that Justina incorporated this element on top of an amazingly diverse cast of characters and while also having important discussions that reflects the world we live in today.
“Most important, it was my fault that my skin was brown and Momma’s wasn’t and that she had the terrible misfortune to love me anyway.”
Also, Jane is so not straight! I don’t feel comfortable giving her a label, but I do personally feel like she identifies under the bisexual umbrella. But it is important to note that there is not a relationship between Jane and another girl on page.
And there is a major character that is part of the ace community! I can’t personally speak about this representation, but I thought it was very thoughtfully done. Plus, we need so many more stories that just normalizes sexuality. And even though I think authors are being better about LGBTQIA+ representation, I still find it harder to find asexual characters. Even though this mention is brief, I loved this inclusion.
If you want to read a book about black girls killing zombies and putting a stop to white power-hungry men (because who honestly wouldn’t?) please give Dread Nation a try. And I hope if you do give it a try, that you will take something from it and help to raise and support marginalized voices.
This all being said; this review is coming to you from a very white and privileged reviewer. Closer upon release, when this book hopefully gets into more PoC’s hands, I would love to post some own voices reviews here and celebrate 1.) how truly amazing this book is and 2.) how PoC’s voices are the ones that matter and, more importantly, are the voices that need to be heard. Because you all might think a lot has changed in 2017 from 1865, but it really hasn’t.
Please preorder this alternative history masterpiece. The release date is set for April 3rd, 2018 and I honestly can’t sing this book’s praises enough. And please, Justina, give us more of Jane and this world! I loved this story with my whole heart. And I completely agree with Kelly that HBO should scrap their gross version of the American Civil War with Confederate and just buy the rights to this book immediately. This book is powerful, this book is beautiful, this book is life changing.
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.