October Book Review: Dread Nation

Thank you again to Tonia Thompson and the Nightlight   Podcast family for this recommendation. -JBHarris

I am convinced that Miss Jane McKeene is my great-great-great-great grandmother in a parallel universe. This book is one of the  best I have read in a while.

I am not a fan of speculative fiction, but I heard a snippet of this story through the Nightlight Podcast, the second show of the first season. The story was engaging and from that snippet, the book was on my Must Read radar. I had to read it.

Passing. Erasure. Resilience. Romance. Come of age. Black Girl Magic. Revenge killing. White Supremacy. Inaction of Black people in power? What is justice? What is peace? The themes for this book jump out at you. I suicided this book. That means that I read it (via Audible) in about a day and a half. Via Audible, it  was about 12 hours. It was excellent!

Dread Nation is novel of speculative fiction  with a historical fiction bent. The basis of the novel is the Civil War  didn’t so much as it had shifted. Our protagonist Jane McKeene is Baltimore, Maryland–originally from Kentucky. She is a smart, intelligent and ambitious young woman. She can read and write at a time where Negroes are still seen as less than and subhuman.  She and other Negro girls are in combat school, learning to fight off zombies. The book calls them shamblers. It is Jane’s desire to own her own life (she wa born free) that draws you into the story. Jane’s story forces you to pay attention to her, and all that his happening to her—along with the Miss Preston’s Combat School For Negro Girls. Here is where we learn the dead don’t stay dead–and head shots/decapitation put them down. The goal of the school is for the graduates to get gainful employment as an attendant to a wealthy family. From what I can gather, an attendant is a companion to the wealthy white elite akin to a mammy.

As we follow Jane through ambition to own her own life and betrayals by an instructors, you cannot help but root for her. There was a unique sympathy  I found with her. Is it spec fic, yes. However, because Ms. Ireland’s novel is lovely in it’s crafting! She weaves in the subjugation and harsh physical treatment of Negroes in the story. The comparison to the treatment of American slaves cannot be ignored! The fact  she also wove in the careless expenditure of Black lives as it relates to white people’s comfort, power and safety? Awesome. As a reader and a writer, you want to know what happened! Don’t be shocked if you lose a day reading this!

I found myself cheering for Jane, like a granddaughter finding her in a family tree. The more I found out about Jane, the more I liked her. The more I rooted for her. The more I liked her. The more I wanted her to win—despite the situation she found herself in. Dealing with the history of her mother. Longing for the planation home, Rose Hill, and trying to deal with the jealousy of a girl whom was passing at Miss Preston’s–I saw so many echoes of my family through Justina Ireland’s pen.

It’s a forgone conclusion to ask if I recommend this. The one thing I wanna ask Ms. Ireland is–Where is Gideon?

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