Title: Dreamland Burning
Author: Jennifer Latham
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Reviewed By: Arlena Dean
"Dreamland Burning" by Jennifer Latham
My Conclusion from reading ...'Dreamland Burning'.....
After I saw a news coverage in my area about this author, her new novel "Dreamland Burning" and especially with her being from my area I knew I wanted to read her novel and also met her[and even got her autograph]. I am so glad to say I had that privilege of three things.....meeting this author, reading"Dreamland Burning" and reviewing her excellent read.
When I was in college...many years ago I did a paper on 'Tulsa's Race Riot 1921' so when I saw and heard what this novel was about I knew I had to read it. Even though it is a genre as a historic fiction it is mixed with some mystery and truth that I found in the history of the 'race riot' was fairly right on the mark of what had gone on in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. At that time there was 'extreme racism, discrimination and hate especially toward and against African-Americans'. This 'race riot' resulted in the death of hundreds of black African-Americans and the destruction of the Greenwood area of town of Tulsa was known to be one of 'the worst incidents of racial violence in the U.S. history.' What shocks me even today is that many people know absolutely nothing of this incident. It did happen people!
This author really gives the reader some descriptions of certain areas that I was able to pick up and know the area in which was spoken about. A lots of these locations described in the read are still located in Tulsa today.
My thoughts on how this author presents this story using the past/present version [alternating perspectives in different time periods] was really quite unique in how it was done using two main diverse characters...
Rowan Chase:[as the story is from the present] living in the modern day in Tulsa.... a seventeen year old, bi-racial...her mother was African -American and her father was white...from a wealthy family...went to private school and they even had a servant's quarters. For Rowan lived in a 'post-racial society and a fairly sheltered life.' Rowan's mother was a lawyer and her father was a doctor.
And then we have .... a little connection...with these two main characters....The Chase's home where the skeleton [I know I am getting a little ahead of the story] was found had been commissioned to be built by William's parents in 1921. The money that was used to build this home was however, not from William's father but his Osage mother. Now, why was that?
William Tillman [as the story is from the past] living in Tulsa in 1921 during the Tulsa Race Riot... a bi-racial boy seventeen year old living with ...his mother who was Native American [Osage] and his father is white. William's father was the owner of a Victrola store. This period of time of this [past]story was between May 31 and June 1st, 1921 when Jim Crow was at its height.
I loved how this story will alternate back and forth from Rowan to William to Roman back to William all the way to the end of the read. You get a Part I and even a Part II. So, nothing is left but for you to do but start reading! I took several days because I wanted to absorb all of the well written story even though some of the read had such 'virulent hatred that just leaped off the page' that caused me to really shake my head and wonder how can some human beings be so cruel. But that's the way it was back then or is it still like this for some African-American people in some form or another?
How does this all start....
Now this author gives the reader quite a story of what happens after Rowan mother gets the 'old servant's quarters' renovated and that is when a century old skeleton is found buried underneath in the backyard on the Chase property. We find Rowan who was a great protagonist setting out to discover who this was and how they died by doing some amateur detective research. Oh, I will say at this point Rowan had some help with all of her investigating and that was her best friend, James who just happened to be a asexual character [Oh Yes!] and just happened to be 'part Kiowa and part Black.'
What happens while Rowan is interning at a local clinic in Tulsa where there will be issues of racism, and social inequality that turned out to be quite a eye opener for her?
The story comes in where William who goes to a 'Two -Knock'' with his friend Cletus Hayes and gets upset seeing a white girl [that he liked] being touched by a black man named Clarence Banks. There will be a lots of tension built from this situation ...because this was definitely a no no at this time in history. Now, what all will become of this situation when it was known at this time in history that.....even
"Glancing sideways at a white woman was near enough to get Negroes lynched in Tulsa. Shot, even, in the middle of Main Street at noon, and with no more consequence than a wink and a nudge and a slap on the back."
This author gives the reader chapter after chapter of the days leading up to the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and I will say it wasn't a pretty read at all for me. As the read goes on we find that William worked in his father's shop where he comes involved with two African-Americans...Joseph and Ruby. Now I will stop here and only say you will have to pick up this good read to see who they were and how they played into this very interesting story. I will not say who but their is another character that really I didn't care for and oh ....well I will say just pick this up this enthralling read and see for yourself who this person was that was one creep as you read through the read.
Now if you continue to read 'Dreamland Burning' you will get one twisted story that will go back and forth giving the reader quite a historical fiction read but it doesn't stray away from the truth of just what was going on [DURING THAT TIME PERIOD]. "What will happen as William must decide which side he is on and what to do about his decision?"
The characters in the past/present were all off the chart [but there were a few I didn't care for at all] but for the most part I found some were well developed but also complexed too, well portrayed, defined and even down right believable. The the reader is given this 'incredible as well as a astonishing read that will give one something to think about long after you put this engrossing read down. I will say even though there was some 'profiling, violence racial slur [n-word] may have been used I felt it was used to give a true understand and the effect of that particular situation at that time. I thought it was well done by this author and I liked the note the author left concerning why she used those racial slurs in her read.
What will happen when these two versions from different centuries come out and their stories intertwine as harsh truths from the past and present begin to surface?
Now, I know a lots of people may not be interested in this kind of historical fiction read but it was good read about racism all up front and center even as the past/present racism was showed... due to the color of their skin and the injustice that it causes. This is where I say again you will have to pick up this good read of 'Dreamland Burning' to see how Rowan becomes 'savior of the present day in Tulsa and Williams story of the past that happened in 1921 comes together so smoothly. All of the questions asked and more will be answered as the reader reads on and on to the very end.
By the end the reader will be given one amazing read...full of historical fiction, ninety year old mystery, murder with some other complex themes that one will definitely be able to relate to its humanity during this social unrest at that time. The author brings the story all together giving the reader the 'understanding of this history [Tulsa Riot 1921] and its mysterious skeleton.' I felt that this author did a heck of a good job as she was able to give the reader of "Dreamland Burning' that takes place at two different times/ places and in the end bringing it all together before us as we are given definitely a eye opening all front and center of what had truly happened in this whole story.
I will say that this author really did some extensive research work giving the readers quite a story even though it is historical fiction but how she brings in two main characters who were bi-racial...dealing with the issue of racism and hate crimes were truly well done with such humility and tack. It definitely presents the problems that has happened in the past and even addresses the present in the 'prevalence of the same issues we still see every single day whether one wants to admit that the Tulsa Riot of 1921 did happen. Well done to you and thank you for giving the reader one excellent well thought out riveting read. I hope many who may not have heard of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 will know that this did happen right here in great city of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. "Dreamland Burning" is not only a important novel but one smart one that may not have all the answers but ultimately hopeful ones to pull from. Is there room still for growth as our Tulsa society when it comes to race issues? YES!