Do you (or your students) enjoy action? Mystery? Diverse literature? Sassy female characters? ZOMBIES?! Yeah, I thought so. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland offers all of this with a side of phenomenal writing; your high school classroom library is incomplete without it!
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What Drew Me To Dread Nation?
Like so many amazing books, Dread Nation was an Instagram discovery. I had seen it pop up so much on my IG feed that when it came up as a Prime Day deal, I didn’t hesitate.
However, it sat on my shelf for another six months after that. What a mistake! The first few lines of the novel drew me in (and I knew it would suck in my students as well). When I did begin reading it, I couldn’t put it down. I read the whole thing is less than a week (and spent a few days talking to myself in a southern accent).
Now, my high school classroom library would be remiss without several copies of Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation.
What Makes Dread Nation a “Lit” Classroom Library Novel?
Dread Nation is an alternative reality. It takes place after the civil war and the release of enslaved people in America. While the troops head home from the war, however, the dead begin to rise! America is desperate for a solution to the problem.
Meanwhile, America is also grappling with the new workforce of recently freed peoples. These African Americans are suddenly in need of work but have no education or skills outside of plantation work.
African Americans are rounded up and sent to special schools that will equip them with the skills needed to fight the undead. Our protagonist, Jane McKeene volunteers to attend the most prestigious of these schools in order to protect her family plantation.
I fell in love with Jane’s character immediately and so will your students. She is fierce, strong, and flawed in the most beautifully relatable way. You will find yourself cheering for her even as she sticks her own foot in her mouth.
If for no other reason than the strength of this young woman of character, you should add Dread Nation to an inclusive high school classroom library.
Who’s the Ideal Reader for Dread Nation?
Jane attends an all-girls school, so you may find that your female readers gravitate toward this novel more than the boys. However, with a solid book talk, I think you’ll find plenty of young men who can also enjoy this story.
While I don’t think you need to be an advanced reader for this novel, low-level readers may struggle a bit. There are accents and southern sayings sprinkled throughout the text. Struggling students who want to read this may just need a quick review of what idioms are and how to find their meaning.
What may put off some readers is the “supernatural” element in the novel. I have known several students who completely tune out when the word “zombie” is mentioned. Who can blame them? It’s a little played out.
I would like to say, however, that the term “zombie” is NEVER used in the novel, even though the undead are clearly the problem. It’s treated like a natural phenomenon–like dealing the dangers of regular hurricanes, or a widespread plague.
While you could technically classify this novel as sci-fi, it doesn’t feel like the stereotypical zombie thriller. It reads more closely to a western adventure–if strong black women were the protagonists. I would let your potential readers know this, but if they are 100% anti-zombie, don’t force it.
When promoting this book to your students, highlight the strengths of the main character: female, black, tough, and maybe too sassy for her own good (although funny for the reader). The first page would also make for an excellent read-aloud in place of a book talk.
Dread Nation: The Facts
Title: Dread Nation
Author: Justina Ireland
Genre: Sci-fi, Western
Setting: The American south, a few years after the Civil War
Main Character: Jane McKeene, a student at a prestigious all-girls school which trains young ladies to fight the living dead in order to protect wealthy aristocrats. She is sassy and tough as nails.
Page Numbers: 464
Looking for related books? Be sure to check out Children of Blood and Bone for another strong, black, female character in a supernatural situation. If you need another thrilling mystery, check out Broken Things.
This book is part of my Classroom Library Must-Haves. To see other must-have titles and get my FREE list, sign up for my newsletter below.