Today I’ve got something a little different on the blog. Some of you may have seen my Make Me Read It Giveaway (as part of the Wrap-Up Round-Up). AJ @ Read All the Things was the first ever winner, and she chose to make me read Dreamland Burning—and then she got the book as soon as I was done.
(I know the graphic above might make it look like AJ had to challenge me to some sort of duel to make me read the book, but really, all she had to do was win it. No actual battling—or even arm-twisting—was involved. Don’t worry, this is a dual review, not a duel review. Sorry if you’re disappointed.)
As part of the giveaway, I thought it would be fun to offer up the option of doing a dual review, and AJ took me up on it! So here it is, the first ever Make Me Read It Dual Review. I loved doing the review this way! It was great fun and we both loved the interactive format.
Read on to see what we thought of the book…
Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers on February 21st 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Contemporary
My content rating: YA (Racial violence, No romance)
Some bodies won’t stay buried. Some stories need to be told.
When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past, the present, and herself.
One hundred years earlier, a single violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.
AJ and I were both incredibly impressed with this book, and I’m so glad she “made me” read it! AJ took the lead on the review and we started with her thoughts, with me offering up responses (and, sometimes her adding responses to my responses, and so on…).
What Fed Our Addiction:
It starts with a corpse. This novel doesn’t play around. The action starts right on page 1. Seventeen-year-old Rowan wakes up to a commotion in her backyard and discovers that construction workers have dug up a skeleton and a gun. I had planned on reading a few chapters of this book before bed, but I couldn’t stop reading. I had to know who was buried on Rowan’s property.
I agree! This book kept me reading and reading and reading, long after I should have been sleeping. And right from the beginning, you know that the stakes are very high.
There are so many possibilities. The skeleton mystery is compelling because there are so many possibilities for who it could be. I spent most of the book hoping the skeleton wasn’t one of my favorite characters. I wanted my favorites to live long, happy lives. I didn’t want them to get murdered and buried under a house.
I had an assumption about who the skeleton was, so I didn’t even think there was a huge mystery here, to be honest. I really thought we were just unraveling the story of how it happened. It wasn’t until fairly far into the book when I really started to wonder if I might have been wrong, and the ending was very surprising (though I won’t reveal if it was the how or the who that surprised me for fear of spoiling things!).
At first I assumed the skeleton was the owner of the gun, but as the story went on, I seriously started to doubt myself, especially when Rowan opened the skeleton’s wallet. She finds something in the wallet that worried me. I just kept thinking, Don’t be my favorite character, please don’t be my favorite . . .
Ha! I assumed from the start that the skeleton was one of my favorite characters, and then as the book went on, I kept hoping I was wrong.
Dual perspectives and unique voices. The story is told from two first-person points-of-view. Rowan is a modern-day teenager. Will is also a teenager, but he lives in 1921. Usually I don’t like books with multiple first-person narrators because the voices sound too similar, but I didn’t have that problem with this book. The narrators have distinct voices and personalities.
Yes, there’s really no chance of getting these narrators confused, since they’re so different and the world around them is very different as well. I wasn’t sure how much I would like flipping back and forth between the two different eras, but I thought that it worked well so that we could see the juxtaposition of Tulsa today and Tulsa in the 20s. There’s this sense of, “Look how far we’ve come… and how far we still need to go.”
Exactly. It’s interesting to see how much—and how little—has changed since the 1920s. It sucks that the KKK is still relevant. It’s still something that we’re talking about today.
Realistically flawed characters. Will and Rowan are products of their environments. Will has racist ideas because he grew up in an environment where causal racism was normal. Rowan is a rich girl who occasionally has problems seeing the world from a less-privileged perspective. Both narrators feel very real to me.
At first, you’re not sure if Will is going to be a sympathetic MC or not. His actions and attitudes at the beginning of the book are sometimes painful to read, and it’s hard to understand them. As the book progresses and Will changes, we see more and more how ignorance has shaped him—and how he is learning to get past that ignorance and see the world more clearly. Rowan is more immediately likable, but I agree that she also has issues with perspective.
History never dies. Will’s half of the book is set during a deadly race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. This was a real event (that I knew nothing about. Thank you, American education system). I love that the author draws parallels between this historical riot and modern-day racial tensions. Racism and racial injustice aren’t things of the past. They’re still major problems today.
Like you, I’d never heard of the race riot in Tulsa. I knew, in a general sense, that racial inequality and race crimes were rampant during that era, but this book makes the issue both more personal and more universal. Looking at our history in this way forces us to realize what’s at stake if we fail to come together as a human race.
Yes, this is an extremely relevant book. If we don’t learn from history, it’s going to repeat itself.
Diversity. Very few of the characters are white. Most of the characters—including both narrators—are black, Native American, or biracial.
While the Native American element was much smaller in this book than the racial tensions between blacks and whites, I thought that they were a perfect way to underscore the injustices being done in the 20s. Again, the book brought issues to light that I was mostly ignorant of.
I would’ve liked the Native American aspect to be a bigger part of the story, but that probably would’ve made the book huge. The author can’t cram everything in there. Still, it was interesting to learn about how the Native American population in Tulsa was treated by the white residents. I like that the author blends real historical facts into the lives of fictional characters.
Oh, and when talking about diversity, we’d be remiss if we forgot to mention that there’s an asexual character in this book as well.
What Left Us Hungry for More:
Rowan’s point-of-view. I like Will’s point-of-view much more than Rowan’s. His sections are faster paced and have more action. Toward the end, I was tempted to skip Rowan’s chapters so I could read Will’s. I didn’t do that, though. You need to read both to understand the story. Still, I much preferred Will’s.
I agree that the bulk of the action in the story takes place in Will’s POV. I preferred his as well, though I like the perspective that Rowan’s POV gives us—as someone who is detached from the race riot but still lives in its shadow in a lot of ways. My one complaint about Rowan’s chapters is that I couldn’t quite get on board with her withholding evidence from the police. It bugged me that she decided she should look into the murder instead of the police—because obviously, they wouldn’t do a good job and she (a teenage girl) would do much better. I couldn’t quite see the logic in that.
Yes. Completely agree. I was very annoyed at Rowan for tampering with the skeleton. She’s a teen who reads detective novels. Of course she knows more about murders than cops, medical examiners, and anthropologists. She’s clearly the only person who’s qualified to solve this mystery.
AJ and I loved this book and the perspective it gives on racial tensions in the US. We highly recommend you pick this one up, and it got 4.5/5 Stars from both of us!
***Disclosure: Nicole received this book from the publisher via BEA 2016 in exchange for an honest review (and AJ got it from Nicole!). No other compensation was given and all opinions are our own.***
About the Author
I write because it’s the only job I’ve been able to stick to for more than two years. Seriously.
I’ve lived lots of different places. Here’s the list: New York City; San Francisco; Augusta, GA; Buffalo, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Madrid; Providence, RI; and now…Tulsa, OK.
I’ve had some really weird and really normal jobs. The weirdest was helping out with autopsies. The one I’d go back to if I couldn’t write is being a school psychologist. The one I still do sometimes is teach yoga.
I live with my two daughters, two dogs, a cat, three turtles, three hermit crabs, a bunch of fish, and a husband (mine, of course).
I love watching people.
And I love writing about the people who live inside my head, even when they don’t play nice.
Now, make sure you head over to Read All the Things to give AJ some love.
(Her Sunday Posts and Monthly Wrap-Ups always make me laugh, so you might want to check those out as well as her reviews!)