Rummanah Aasi

Description: Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation 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.

Review: Dread Nation is a very clever and subversive horror novel set in an alternative American Civil War. The North and South have set aside their differences and slavery has ended when the dead rise up, prowl the battlefields, and eat their compatriots. The horror has birthed a new nation and a different type of slavery disguised by the Native and Negro Reeducation Act which forces Native and African American boys and girls into combat schools. Graduates from these schools are a buffer between the living and the undead.
  Jane McKeen is a biracial girl sent to Ms. Preston's school of combat to obtain an attendant certificate. She is trained in combat, weaponry, and etiquette so she can protect her future white employers. Though not an ideal life, the life of an attendant provides an opportunity for education and a chance at a better life. Jane yearns for the chance to be reunited with her mother and return to her home in Kentucky. Jane is an admirable heroine who is above all a survivor. She is quick on her feet, incredibly intelligent, and outspoken which leads her into trouble multiple of times. We get glimpses of her past as she writes letters to her mother and reminisces about home.
 When she is about to graduate her friend, Red Jack, asks for help locating his sister Lily. Jane's attempts to discover Lily's whereabouts land her in a survivalist colony called Summerland, whose motto is restoring America's former glory. Survivalists advocate a disordered view of natural selection that places Jane on patrol from zombies because her skin color makes her expendable and she is firmly under the watchful eye of a vicious sheriff and his psychopathic family. Jane now has an insurmountable task of finding a way out of Summerland not only for herself, but also for those she loves. She must make some unlikely alliances of her own if she is to survive long enough to find her own path to freedom.
  I am not a fan of horror novels and particularly not of zombies, but Dread Nation drew me in as a reader. It is a smart, thought provoking novel that explores horror of the fictional and unfortunately real kind. Ireland skillfully works in the different forms of enslavement, mental and physical, into a complex and engaging story. It is absolutely horrifying to see characters justify oppression, racism, and slavery. Despite these heavy topics, the novel also has lighter moments too where it explores friendship, love, defying expectations, defiance, and resisting paths that are thrust upon you. I am happy to see that this is a beginning of a series, but there is so much more that I want to know about Jane and her friends. This is a solid horror novel for fans of the movie Get Out and the television show The Walking Dead.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence including a scene of torture. There is minor language and antiquated racial slurs. Drug use is also mentioned. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Mayberry, Devils Unto Dust by Emily Berquist
4 Responses
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  2. I really enjoyed this one as well even though I was frustrated by the cliffhanger. It was unique and I liked that it focused on a biracial character

  3. What an interesting twist on the state of the country after the civil war! It sounds interesting.

  4. Still not sure if I want to read this one or not since I am no longer purchasing books for a library or hanging out with teens. But it does have 6 starred reviews, so I imagine it will be discussed for a potential Printz Award.

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