Author: Jennifer Latham
Genre: Young Adult | Historical | Race
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 21, 2017
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... and the present.
Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided 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.
Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham’s lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important question about the complex state of US race relations – both yesterday and today (goodreads).
Dreamland Burning is a thought-provoking novel on progress that I recommend to EVERYONE.
Plot: As you can see from the synopsis, there are literal skeletons in Rowan's backyard which leads to a 90-year-old mystery. The novel opened with Rowan and a few unlucky construction workers stumbling across the skeleton and Rowan's curiosity was instantly piqued - especially since the property had been her family's name for decades. Dreamland Burning was told from alternating perspectives in different time periods. Rowan served as the modern woman in 2017, while William was a white man living in 1920 Tulsa when Jim Crow was at its height. Both stories helped connect the reader to understanding history and the mysterious skeleton.
I loved the alternating chapters of Dreamland Burning because each discussed race relations in a separate time period. It was interesting to see how ideas changed and what problems still plague our society. Admittedly, it took a while to uncover the mystery behind the skeleton on the Chase property, but it had a ending that will punch you in the gut and have you really start thinking about our perception of race.
Characters: Both William and Rowan are mixed-race teenagers. William is the son of a Native American woman and white man. Rowan is the daughter of a black woman and white man. I found Rowan's perspective to be interesting, because she was your typical generation Z teen. She accepted that she lived in a post-racial society and lived a fairly sheltered life. There were multiple situations that put her in uncomfortable situations that had her question her own perceptions and modern race relations in a time period where we should all be living in harmony. On the flip side, William was aware of the racial tensions of Jim Crow in the South and it felt like he was waiting for the straw to break the camels back. Both characters were thought-provoking and didn't always have the answers, which made them read as authentic characters.
Oh and I can't leave this section without mentioning one thing: ASEXUAL CHARACTERS. There is an asexual character who served a purpose and was beautifully complex. Everyone in this novel was wondrously complex and I hope teachers consider adding this novel to their class reading lists!
Worldbuilding: Dreamland Burning takes place in two very different places, and I was amazed by how easy Latham was able to transport her readers to 1920s Tulsa, Oklahoma. At times, there was overlap in both worlds that felt like easter eggs and added to the fun of alternating time periods.
Short N Sweet: Dreamland Burning is a remarkable book that touches on the complexity of race in Jim Crow and today.