A simple way to describe this book would be to say it’s post-Emancipation Proclamation Civil War era America, but with zombies to contend with on top of the latent racism and slavery hangers-on. The schools which Jane McKeene and other black children are made to attend mirror those which Native Americans were actually made to attend in an effort to erase their culture. There is a lot going on in this book that could fill two semesters of an African American studies course, and if you aren’t involved with the civil rights struggle, most of it will pass over your head as a creepy, alternative history zombie tale.
Remember when I reviewed The Hate You Give? I felt like the themes were so important, but the presentation seemed to break the 4th wall too often for me, as an adult, to enjoy the story uninterrupted. For kids it’s perfect, but the whole flow of the writing and the book missed me. Dread Nation presents many of those same themes important to the struggle of black people in America specifically, and it does it in a way that advances the plot and reinforces why those themes and issues are problematic and complicated and wrong. It was a challenge for me to read through and make sure that I was picking up everything Ireland was putting down. To miss something would be to miss a valuable lesson that I could not afford to not learn.
This is a fantastic story with some amazing characters. If you enjoy zombies, it’s for you. If you enjoy historical fiction, it’s for you. If you enjoy alternative historical fiction, it’s for you. If you enjoy novels that challenge our country’s handling of racial issues, this book is for you. If you enjoy YA or women’s fiction…I mean you get the idea, right?
Justina Ireland has brought to us an entertaining novel that speaks to everyone, as long as we are willing to listen. You wouldn’t want to miss those shambler moans now, would you? Keep your ears open and your sickles sharp, and then go get you some.