Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

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Dread Nation book 1. Titan Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781789092219.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Themes: Horror, Zombies, Alternative history, Racism. What a roller coaster of a ride - thrilling action and a complex story that looks at racism and slavery makes this an engrossing historical adventure about an alternative America. Jane McKeene is just about to graduate from Miss Preston's School of Combat in Baltimore, a place where Negro girls are trained to fight the undead. When families begin to go missing from the area, she and her colleague, Katherine, are caught up in a deadly conspiracy that sees her in a deadly struggle not only against the zombies but against a group of Survivalists who view her and her companions as fodder for the undead.
I picked this up as it kept appearing on literary awards for young adult books in the fantasy and science fiction genres (Hugo Award Nominee (2019), Nebula Award Nominee (Andre Norton Award) (2018), Locus Award nominee (2019), and Goodreads Choice Award Nominee (2018)), and I was not disappointed. Ireland's very skilful narration brings the characters to life while maintaining a very fast pace. Jane is a feisty and intelligent girl who has outstanding leadership skills which she uses often while fighting the Shamblers. But she also has some flaws - she is impetuous and often says things that get her into trouble. Katherine is her opposite, determined to remain ladylike in all situations. When trouble strikes them both, they manage to put aside their differences to fight the evil around them.
Fans of the zombie genre will want to read this, while fans of historical fiction will become engrossed in a story that has its combat school system based on the real Native American boarding schools, as the author's note explains. And readers who like a good action story, well written with likeable characters, and which also explores slavery and racism, will find this difficult to put down and will be impatient for the sequel that is to come. The complexity of its themes could also make it a literature circle text, promoting lively discussion.
Pat Pledger