Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: racism, death, fire, shooting, murder.
Goodreads Rating: 3 Stars
The proverbial skeleton is about to be out of the closet! Latham kept me hanging on the edge of my seat and turning pages, determined to figure out who the body was before it was fully revealed…but I truly couldn’t figure it out until the very end.
Rowan Chase is woken up to the sound of construction. When she gets up to investigate, she finds something more mysterious than the renovation. The workers have found a body long dead in her decades-family-owned servants house. Unused but for storage for almost a century, the workers were converting the building into a man-cave for Rowan’s father. Quickly the workers leave, and Rowan calls up her best friend James to help her investigate. When they start looking at the remains, they noticed a wallet, a gun with “Maybelle” inscribed on it, and the messy remaining mix of lime and blood.
in 1921, William Tillman is a young man in the midst of racially tumultuous Tulsa. He’s the son of a Osage woman and a blue collar man, trying to impress his crush Addie and his best friend, Clete. While at a speakeasy dubbed the Two-Knock, Addie and a black man named Clarence walk in, and Clete immediately urges Will to run him off for talking to a white woman. Will is drunk and belligerent, but even then he knows that he doesn’t think this is right- however, he causes a ruckus, picks a one-sided fight, and Clarence is forced to leave. Clete runs to the crooked police, which trickles to the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan (or wanna-bes), and Clarence is killed. Will knows this is just as much his fault as Clete’s and the others.
As Rowan tracks down the past on her house, the town, and the skeleton in her back yard, Will recounts the time leading up to the Tulsa race riot of 1921. In alternating chapters, the reader is piecing together the clues that will reveal who the skeleton is, while Latham describes a dark and scary time in American history, and reminds us that history often repeats itself if we let it.
My in-real-life book club picked this for our monthly read. We wanted a female author or a strong female lead, and out of a strong pile of books fitting the bill, we chose Dreamland Burning and got both. I’m curious to see what the members of the group thought about the book, but I was definitely absorbed in it by 50 pages in. I will say that both main characters bothered me at first- their privilege was showing and made them a little unlikable in the beginning for me- but once I got into the unraveling of the story, I realized that both Rowan and Will were able to change for the better.
I plan to do some more reading up on the events in this book, but I did do a few searches, and what I have found about the riot is nauseating. There are images of the KKK, images of the town on fire, articles with info disputing how many people of color were killed that night, and even worse things. I highly suggest this read, as it is such a good mystery and a great way to open discussion on race, class, and historical context, but I also would say to keep in mind that this book, though fictional, is still based on a true, horrible event. It’s certainly one that’ll open anyone’s eyes.
Published: February 21, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
TL/DR: Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham is historical fiction YA novel told from two points of view, almost a century apart, about the 1921 Race Riots in Tulsa, OK.
Read it? Yes, for the purpose of learning about a rather hidden part of history and the mystery of the plot.
Recommend it? Yes, for the same reason as why you should read it.
Buy it? I wouldn’t buy this one, but I would borrow a copy from the library, friend, etc.
If you liked this novel or review, check out these similar reads:
- Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
- Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill