This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Series: Dread Nation, #1
Published by Balzer + Bray on April 3, 2018
Genres: Young Adult
Buy on Amazon
The American Civil War really ended when the dead rose from the ground.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is the story of Jane McKeene, an African-American girl who was born in Kentucky as the dead began walking. At age 11 she was sent (despite her white mother trying to hide her) to a combat school as per the Native and Negro Reeducation Act. All girls of color were sent and trained in etiquette and combat to become Attendants guarding the rich white people. Jane ended up at Miss Preston’s school in Baltimore county where she excelled in all forms of combat, but nearly failed etiquette.
As with most heroes, Jane’s drive to do what’s right gets her in trouble. While helping look for her best friend’s little sister, she’s caught and sent to a manufactured city behind a Shambler-safe wall. Shamblers are what they call zombies.
I first discovered this book when I wrote about it for ThriftBooks early last year. Even with that I was wrong with my expectations. I knew Jane was a girl of color, but I thought the main story was the shamblers. This is one of the most inclusive books I’ve read. And it has brilliant story-telling. Not only is Jane battling Shamblers, she’s battling the racism and sexism of the mid-19th century. She kisses boys and girls, and will save anyone, regardless of how nasty they are. There are nice people of color, and nasty ones, just like there are nice white people and nasty ones. Taking the lack of stigma further, after being sent away, Jane lives with sex workers. It calls out what’s wrong and normalizes what should be normalized. And keeps the post-war era behaviors.
Probably the biggest strength of Dread Nation is its story. I adore Jane. But all the supporting characters have personality and are believable. Including the corrupt pastor and his Sheriff son. I didn’t like them because they’re the flawed villains and you’re not meant to like them. I’d prefer to say some parts are impossible to believe, but an 11-year-old defending herself with a shotgun is totally believable when that 11-year-old grew up surrounded by zombies, and on a farm.
Dread Nation is the first in a series with the second due Winter 2020. Perfectly timed for when I graduate school.
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