In this reimagined history of the United States, the U.S. Civil War has ended with Confederate and Union soldiers risen from the dead, zombies who are combated by black and brown-skinned Americans who have been conscripted to fight them.
Dread Nation, Justina Ireland’s latest YA novel, is a rollicking 'Gone With the Wind and Zombies' adventure with a biting commentary on contemporary race relations in America ... Jane is a YA treasure. She has voice for days and sass in equal measure, plus a casual relationship with honesty, which gets her both into and out of trouble ... Dialogue in Dread Nation, both mental and spoken, has the precision of a dagger and the wallop of a 12-gauge shotgun ... I enjoyed Dread Nation far more than I thought I would, as zombie fiction isn’t my typical fare. Dozens of fandoms will relish Dread Nation, though. Send out the word to those who’ve watched Westworld, Firefly, or Zombieland; anyone who’s played the Borderlands video games; fans of Gail Carriger’s Finishing School or Parasol Protectorate series; and readers who crave a splash of wry, cutting humor in this cracked American history.
Dread Nation is the perfect example of why we need more diversity in the YA author pool. Only a Black American woman could write Dread Nation. The true history of Western civilization is etched into Black bones. It is passed down through the generations not as object lessons but as fragments of memories imbued with subtext. A single sentence carries with it a tone of respectability and the implication of revolution ... Ireland tapped into our collective knowledge of the past and dreams for the future and poured it into Dread Nation. She revealed the truth of the real America by rewriting the fictional one. I didn’t just love Dread Nation. I felt it down to my core. It moved me in ways I didn’t expect.
Dread Nation is suitable for most readers, definitely down into the mid-teen age ranges, yet the themes around slavery, freedom, and self-determination work well for adults too. I would love to see Dread Nation taught in schools along with Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, juxtaposing who the two stories center and how they upend the social hierarchy in different ways. One of the strongest threads of the book is about how these three Black young adults use the perceptions of the white people around them to their advantage. They, and the other Black characters in the book, demonstrate both a deadly practicality in the face of white savagery, and a cunning, proactive ability to manipulate white prejudice to survive. We so often get images of Blacks as victims, waiting to be saved—there are no victims in this book. Only people playing the victim while others fight to get by ... I fell completely in love with Jane. She’s a heroine on par with any other, and I’m excited to see where the story takes her next.