Tuesday, February 21, 2017

DREAMLAND BURNING BY JENNIFER LATHAM - BOOK REVIEW

Hello everyone!

I am back with another book review - today it is Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham. Thank you so much to Hachette Books Canada for sending me a copy of this book for an honest review. As always, all opinions are my own.


THIS BOOK DESERVES ALL OF THE STARS!

I knew from page 4 that this book was going to be phenomenal - and I was right.

The story is told in two halves. The first is from William, a bi-racial boy living in 1921 Tulsa during the 'race riot.' His father is white, and his mother is Native American - this creates a whole other tension for Will throughout the story and also adds another layer of history to the story. This timeline shows extreme racism, discrimination, and hate against African-Americans. His story depicts the community of Greenwood, culminating with the burning of the town, and the Dreamland theatre (hence the title).

The other perspective is of seventeen year old Rowan, a bi-racial girl living in modern day Tulsa. Her mother is African-American and her father is white, giving insight to racism in today's world. Rowan's family decides to renovate the servant's quarters in their home and they find a body hidden underneath the floorboards. No one knows who it is, but the coins in the man's wallet suggest that he was alive sometime around 1921 - right around the time of the conflict. Between trying to figure out the identity of the body, Rowan experiences racial tensions her parents have tried to shield her from when she ends up getting a summer job at a walk-in clinic in a poor part of town.

I also loved how Rowan's best friend, James, is asexual. It wasn't a major thing, but I'm not sure I can name a book with an asexual character in it. All of the major characters, in both timelines, were extremely well fleshed out. They stood out as real, independent characters. I especially loved the development of Will's character over the course of the novel.

This book is just so important, both in discussing issues still faced today, and what we are to do with the teachings of history. I'm not sure how many people know the story of the riots - I know I didn't. I think a lot of people look back on the 1920s as a glorified time - the Roaring Twenties and all that. But this book shows some of the darker times of this decade, not just flappers, parties and Gatsby.

I really enjoyed James and Rowan's detective/research - I've become more and more interested in research and discovering things otherwise lost in the past and when they were looking things up online and meeting with people who were around when things happened, I got really excited.

You could tell that Latham had really done a lot of research before telling this story - it's a difficult story to tell, but one that definitely needs to be told. As a Canadian, I had not heard of the events in Tulsa, but the story is still so important. Latham discusses the issue of racism and hate crimes with humility and tact, creating a story that was difficult to read at times but never came across in a way that made me question her stance.

The story is filled with suspense and tension, whether it is trying to figure out the mystery of who the body belonged to, what would happen to Will and his friends Joseph and Ruby, or what would happen with Rowan in her life. Latham's writing style sucks you in and holds you by the heartstrings until the bitter end. I kept going back and forth, trying to decide which character was killed and left for decades - thinking I knew who it was at one point and second guessing myself the next chapter.

This book will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you angry - but most importantly of all - it will make you want to do something. Things have come a long way from this period in time, but there is still a long way to go.

This is the historical fiction you need to push yourself to read. I know a lot of people read the words "historical fiction" and immediately turn away, but this book is so much more. Yes, it addresses problems of the past, but more than anything, it shows the prevalence of these issues still today. I'll leave you with this quote from when I knew I would love this book:

"It was probably quieter a hundred years ago, but that doesn't necessarily mean better. I understand now that history only moves forward in a straight line when we learn from it. Otherwise, it loops past the same mistakes over and over again."

I cannot recommend this book enough!