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Children's Book Reading Challenge...For Adults!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Exciting and Original, Alternate History Zombie Novel an Engrossing Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

The War Between the States was in full-swing when the country got the shock of its young life—its dead soldiers were not remaining dead.  They were rising up, hungry and rabid.  With shamblers turning everyone in their paths, war was derailed and desperate Americans had to learn to fight the growing zombie menace.  An enterprising government came up with a brilliant solution.  To create an army of monster-slayers, it passed the Native and Negro Reeducation Act, which required every Native and Negro child to attend combat school starting at 12 years old.  While certain cities have since been declared shambler-free, these "throwaway" children still have plenty of fighting to do in order to keep their betters from being bitten.

At 17, Jane McKeene is in her third year at Miss Preston's School of Combat for Negro Girls in Baltimore.  Despite being the daughter of one of the wealthiest white women in Haller County, Kentucky, Jane's mixed-race ethnicity destines her for a life of servitude.  Although her fondest desire is to return home to check on her family—from whom she has heard nothing—she's making the best of  her situation.  She's training to be an Attendant, a combination chaperone/bodyguard for rich white girls.  While such a career will hardly give her the freedom she craves, it beats harvesting cotton or slaving away in a hot kitchen.  Besides, she's a skilled fighter.  If she can just manage to keep her mouth shut and her manners in check long enough, a secure future will be hers.

When local families start to vanish, Jane's skeptical of the official "shambler attack" explanation.  Something else is going on, something much more disturbing.  Not one for leaving well enough alone, she launches her own investigation into the strange disappearances.  Before she knows it, she's embroiled in a plan more sinister than she ever could have imagined.  With her bright future, not to mention her very life, on the line, she has to escape and find her way back to Kentucky.  The shamblers aren't the only monsters Jane encounters as she fights for survival in a grim, violent world that considers her—and others like her—very much expendable.

I've been dying to read Dread Nation, a debut novel by Justina Ireland, ever since I heard about it.  I was thrilled, then, when I won a copy of it from YA author Mindy McGinnis (if you like book giveaways, you have to check out her blog).  The story gripped me from the very first page with its intriguing blend of horror, adventure, alternate history, and humor.  Jane's impossible not to like.  She's tough and sassy, but also compassionate and loyal.  It's easy to root for her as she struggles to make her way in a grisly world where her life is valued only for its sacrificial power.  With plenty of action to keep readers turning pages, Dread Nation is an entertaining novel so engrossing you almost don't recognize its allegorical nature.  Ireland definitely has some messages—about race, about individual worth, about the value of all life—that she's trying to get across.  And she succeeds without breaking the story's stride in the least.  In short, I loved this book.  I can't wait to see what happens next to the intrepid Jane McKeene.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the Ashes trilogy [Ashes; Shadows; Monsters] by Ilsa J. Bick)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), blood/gore, violence, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I won an ARC of Dread Nation from the always generous Mindy McGinnis.  Thank you!


  1. I’ve heard great things about this one. I’m hoping it’s not too agenda pushing. I’d love to give it a try.

    1. You know, it is and it isn't. When I read the Author's Note at the beginning of the book, I was a little worried that it was going to be an angry, anti-white rant. And it's not. It definitely has messages to get across, but it's not done in an obnoxious way.

  2. What a fun alternative history, but it sounds like it also has depth in its discussion of race. I bet teens would love this one.

    1. I think they would, too. It's got a lot of action and adventure and zombies, of course, but it does have depth to it. It would make for an interesting classroom discussion or English essay for sure!

  3. The world can always use more "tough and sassy" heroines! And what a great, and different, take for a zombie novel. I will definitely be giving this one a read. :D

    1. I'll be interested to see what you think! In some ways, it's a typical zombie novel, but it does have some original elements that make it stand out.

  4. I've seen this one around! I'm not if it's for me, but most everyone seems to really like it. Historical is a genre I typically read/look for, and zombies just aren't my cup of tea. My husband and I watched the first few seasons of The Walking Dead, but I couldn't stick with it.

    I'm so happy you loved this! I hope your next book is just as enjoyable.

    Do You Dog-ear?


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