Dread Nation (Ireland)

Dread Nation 
Justina Ireland, 2018
464 pp.

At once provocative, terrifying, and darkly subversive, Dread Nation is Justina Ireland's stunning vision of an America both foreign and familiar—a country on the brink, at the explosive crossroads where race, humanity, and survival meet.

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.

In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.

But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It's a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston's School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.

But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.

And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1978-79
Where—San Bernardino, California, USA
Education—M.F.A., Hamline University
Currently—lives in York, Pennsylvania

Justina Ireland is the author of several young adult fantasy novels; her most recent, Dread Nation, (2018), is an alternate history of the Civil War in which zombies rise up from the battlefields.

Ireland was born and raised in California: first, in San Bernardino; then, in her sophomore year of high school, she moved to Walnut Grove. At 19 she joined the U.S. Army in order to pay for the cost of college. While serving, she became a linguist specializing in Arabic. Nearly 10 years later, married and pregnant with her daughter, Ireland turned to writing fiction. In 2015 she enrolled in the M.F.A. for Children's Literature at Hamline University, receiving her degree in 2017.

One of Ireland's primary goals as a black writer is to change publishing, especially its Children's and Young Adult divisions, making the industry more inclusive of writers of color. She wants, she says, to have young heroines look like her own daughter. As she told Publishers Weekly:

There are precious few Black girls living full and complex lives in children’s fiction..… And even when we get our own characters, their story is usually one of unmitigated suffering, as though the only narrative worth telling about Black people in America is one of tragedy.…

I wanted to write a story that would create space for Black boys and girls to exist. I want to expand the possibilities, so that everyone could see us as heroes in literature for a change

Although publishers claim they want to do more regarding diversity—hiring more black editors and publishing more black authors—they have yet to do so. According to Vulture, in an industry where 80% of its editors are white, the barriers for black voices remains high. The proof is in the numbers: of the 3,700 kids' and YA books published in 2017 (the year before Dread Nation was released), 340 were about black children and teens; of those, only 100 were written by black authors.

Let's hope that Dread Nation and it's sequel will make a significant dent in that color barrier. (Adapted from various online sources. Retrieved 4/4/2018.)

Book Reviews
(Starred review.) [A]lternate-history horror tale… First in a duology, Ireland’s gripping novel is teeming with monsters—most of them human. Abundant action, thoughtful worldbuilding, and a brave, smart, and skillfully drawn cast (Ages 14–Up).
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) Slavery comes to a halt when the dead on Civil War battlefields begin to rise and eat their compatriots.… Ireland skillfully works in the different forms of enslavement, mental and physical, into a complex and engaging story (Gr. 9 & Up). —Desiree Thomas, Worthington Library, OH
School Library Journal

(Starred review.) Ireland delivers a necessary, subversive, and explosive novel with her fantasy-laced alternate history that does the all-important work of exploring topics of oppression, racism, and slavery whi…. Brilliant and gut-wrenching.

(Starred review.) All the classic elements of the zombie novel are present, but Ireland takes the genre up a notch with her deft exploration of racial oppression…. With a shrewd, scythe-wielding protagonist of color …an exciting must-read (Ages 14-adult).
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for DREAD NATION … then take off on your own:

1. How would you describe Jane?

2. What about Kate? In what way is she trapped—what is her figurative "imprisonment"? How does she serve as a literary foil for Jane?

3. Jane recognizes that some black people have internalized white racism:

Most of the white folks in the room are nodding and giving praise. I glance around the Negro tables and realize a few of those folks are as well. That makes me sad and scared.

What does Jane mean—how does what she witnesses make her "scared"?

4. Even though slavery has been abolished, white people continue to devise different ways of keeping people of color as slaves—like slavery, just without the title. What are the new forms of not-slavery in Dread Nation?

5. In what way does the book reflect our current society? Consider all the uncomfortable topics that white people would rather ignore and pretend do not exist. From prison systems, to Black Lives Matter, to systemic racism.

6. How are men, particularly white men, portrayed in this novel?

7. What do you think of Miss Preston's School. What are the reasons Jane feels lucky to be sent to that school in particular.

8. Do these words, from Summerland, sound familiar today?

Government pays to send them to those fancy schools while real mean like me are left to fend for ourselves. If it wasn’t for all that money going to educate [slur], we have better weapons to fight the undead, and better training for real men, too.

9. Talk also about the treatment of Native Americans in the novel. Does the novel conform to what you know of American Indians' actual history in the U.S.

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2019