Monday, December 18, 2017

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

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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.

As I get older I find that I don't read YA books as often as I used to so were it not for a venture into a local bookstore where I wound up chatting with one of the booksellers, I wouldn't have been made aware of what has turned out to be one of my favourite books of 2017.

Dreamland Burning is a suspenseful part murder mystery, part history lesson told through dual timelines. How Jennifer Latham connected all the dots still astounds me. Not only was she able to create a mystery that I couldn't get enough of, she also drew parallels between the highly combustible atmosphere of a city on the brink of self-destruction and today's current social climate. The story is split between POVs - that of Will in 1921 and Rowan today. Rowan, who decides to take on the mystery of the skeletal remains found on her property, couldn't have known how uncovering the truth from the past would impact her own life in the present. 

Will's POV was a tough read and honestly, I was unsure about him initially. I thought he was a knucklehead but the fact of the matter is that he was simply naive and inexperienced. He did have the most dramatic character development where his inherited beliefs gradually evolved. His growth from that of a self-absorbed teen to that of someone with a conscience and desire to do that decent thing is perhaps my favourite part of the book. And it all happened because of an unlikely friendship.

Rowan goes through her own growth as well. Being the daughter of a black woman and a white father, she's observant of how people respond to her and her mother. As she's attempting to uncover who the skeleton was, she becomes embroiled in her own controversy. Drawing back the layers of the mysterious skeleton's history makes her reevaluate her sense of social justice.

While Will and Rowan are indeed fictional, Latham does reference the real event that incited the Race Riot that took place in Tulsa from May 31 to June 1, 1921. I looked it up and found disturbing images that made my stomach churn. Not many people know of this horrible event but I am thankful to Latham for bringing it to light in such a bold, engrossing and thoughtful story. 

~ Bel

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