"I understand that it is dismaying to know a girl might be wont to strap a revolver to her thigh before attending an educational event." First, I loved this book. I’m writing this weeks after I read it, and I’m still thinking about it. I really liked...
"I understand that it is dismaying to know a girl might be wont to strap a revolver to her thigh before attending an educational event."
First, I loved this book. I’m writing this weeks after I read it, and I’m still thinking about it. I really liked Ireland’s PROMISE OF SHADOWS, but DREAD NATION is such a leap forward in complexity and craft that’s amazing. I really am in awe of this book that shows us a alternate history of the United States during reconstruction, but reflects our country as it currently exists. Her mind for satire is sharp (and not The Onion hahaha funny headline satire, but the satire of dead serious reflection), and the action is AWESOME and terrifying.
I love Jane, the MC of DREAD NATION. She is thoughtful, and impulsive. She is caring, and hateful. She is hilarious, and dead serious. She is such a complex character that she felt alive (insert zombie joke . . .) Her voice felt authentic for the time of reconstruction, but it didn''t feel dated or stilted. Her voice was W.E.B. Dubois, Mark Twain, Hariet E. Wilson, and of course Justina Ireland stirred together into a perfect amalgam - poetic at times, sarcastic, and truth throwing always. And Jane is surrounded by fully realized characters from friends and family, to politicians, scientists, and community members. Their relationships feel real, and are at the core of the book.
The world building in DREAD NATION is incredible. Justina Ireland knows her history. She knows the culture of the times, popular entertainment, mindsets of people in all levels of society, and science. You feel like you''re living in a fully realized world, and as her alternate history shaped by the uprising of the dead during the Civil War progresses you see that she has thought through not just the BIG parts of society and history that would change, but even down to the smallest details (and if this doesn''t have a sequel, a series, and HBO show our world will be poorer for it).
One of my fave world building parts that took me by surprise was a piece of classic literature. At one point Jane has a copy of the big new book of the time, Tom Sawyer, and it didn’t occur to me how much the book would have changed if Twain was writing during these times. I just thought of the book that I read when I was in school, but nope. Tom Sawyer in this alt-history is of course dealing with mischief, but instead of getting kids to paint fences for him, he’s out dealing with zombies and death, and all with Twain’s humor.
We see a bigger part of her world-building in Jane’s combat school. Jane is torn away from her home and taught to battle zombies ("shamblers") while maintaining perfect manners. Though what Jane learns best is how best to usurp all authority as they try to train her to protect the status quo. The schools are based on the real life schools Native American children were forced into to kill native culture, and re-educate them in accordance to Westernized ways of thinking and living, and like those schools her combat school has well-meaning teachers as well as cruelly manipulative. But it''s apparent that the "Negro and Native Re-education Act" is put in place so that Black and Native children become a product to protect and serve white people. They maintain white supremacy in a country that is falling into death and chaos. They’re meant to preserve the status quo in a world that would be better served, and might better survive, if it made changes that would value all their people, instead of just the privileged.
Of course the school is just the beginning, but as we go out into the wider world with Jane we are confronted with race and racism, science that dehumanizes and experiments on Black people, politics, medicine, communities surrounded by walls with leaders who want to make America great again, passing privilege, deconstruction of beauty standards, privilege, education, code-switching, and deciding who we really want to be our leaders. Who we need to be our heroes.
And really, seeing Jane as a hero, Black and epic and proud in this book, is revolutionary all on its own, aside from how brilliantly conceived this books is. Jane is going to change teen readers’ perceptions. I can’t wait to share it with my students, and looking forward to summer reading lists that include DREAD NATION, and really school curriculums that could build entire classes around unpacking the world Justina Ireland created. Anyway, long story short, I liked the book, a lot . . . obv. I wonder if I could get my school system to adopt it to read side by side with another zombie classic we can''t stop teaching, To Kill A Mockingbird. No joke. New personal mission : )