Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

The day I came squealing and squalling into the world was the first time someone tried to kill me. I guess it should have been obvious to everyone right then that I wasn’t going to have a normal life. — [X]

Look, I’m just going to cut to the chase: the book right here? This book lives up to the hype and then some. You can read on to find out why, but if you’ve trusted my previous reviews you better give Justine Ireland your coin because she deserves it. To be honest, she deserves it for describing a character as being “saltier than Lot’s wife” alone. But she gives you so much. We do not deserve such goodness, but I’m thankful we got it anyway.

Jane McKeene is your not-so-typical teenager. With her skin just light enough to earn her a future as a housemistress, Jane’s life would have been one that you’ve probably read about in history books. (Or, maybe some other books because who knows what everyone studies in class, honestly. I know very little of slavery in America was covered in my Indian schooling system, so I won’t assume.) But all of that changes when the dead rise and change the course of history. Suddenly, Black and Indigenous children are separated from families to train as zombie killers, as protectors of respectable white folks.

Even without her unusual fate, Jane is never someone you could mistake for average. But being special sometimes means that a special kind of trouble finds you. A chance zombie attack during a lecture about the possibility of finding a vaccination (and the consequent dispatching of the undead), takes Jane and two of her friends away from Baltimore. Jane, Katherine, and Jackson are taken west, to Summerland, a mysterious town governed by a racist priest and his fanatical son who happens to be the sheriff. The novel follows Jane and Katherine as they con and fight their way to each other and, hopefully, to freedom.

And here I will stop with my summarizing because everything feels spoiler-y honestly. What I can say is that I’ve never read characters like Jane and Katherine before, each navigating a difficult world that hates their respective Blackness is different ways, and yet finding a way to have each others’ backs. Ireland writes the girls’ experience with such nuance. But how could she not, given that every since page is written with such care. The story blends fantasy and history so perfectly, while also managing to critique America’s current political climate. This book is just so damn smart. And at the centre of it all is a character who is so determined, so brave, so real, that you just can’t help but root for her from start to finish.

Also? Katherine is somewhere on the aromantic (possibly asexual) spectrum, you guys. That’s right, just in case you thought the book couldn’t get better. And I believe Jane admits to being attracted to women sometimes, so we also get bisexual representation here. (But going back to Katherine, I almost wept. I feel so blessed.)

Justina Ireland has successfully resurrected (ha) the zombie horror novel. She has taken a sub-genre that was mediocre at best and appropriative at worst, and turned it into sheer excellence. I say again, we do not deserve this goodness, but I’m so grateful to all the gods that we got it anyway.

The book comes out on Tuesday, April 3rd. Please, please read this book immediately. You do yourself a disservice if you do not.

[bwwpp_book sku=’97800625706040000000′]