Ears on the Odyssey

Review: Dread Nation Part 1

Editors’ Note: Mea culpa dear readers. As you might know we’ve had some fellow librarians lend us their perspectives on audios this year. But, long story short we dropped the ball, confused our reviewers and we’ve ended up with 2 reviews of Dread Nation. Both reviews are really great – nuanced, thoughtful and offer unique critiques of the book. Though it started as a mistake, we think that seeing how two different reviewers analyze the same audio book could be really interesting and definitely worth sharing. Below is Katya Schapiro’s review and here is Melanie Wachsmann’s review.

Dread Nation is not kidding around. Justina Ireland’s all-too-believable Civil War era alt-history zombie apocalypse seethes with horrors both human and undead. In this telling, the Civil War ended when the dead on the battlefield began to rise and eat their comrades in arms, but the issues that drove the war continue to warp and shape the human response to the zombie hordes. Slavery is technically illegal but functionally still operational, and ‘education’ for young black and Native American consists largely of training them to fight zombies (and die). Heroine Jane McKeen is a badass sickle-wielding slayer-in-training, but also an excellent friend and a relentlessly clever schemer. She needs all of these talents to handle the impossible situations that she finds herself in, where the constant ‘shambler’ threat takes a backseat to the racism and misogyny of the frontier outpost of Summerland. Chilling and engaging on many levels, Ireland’s acclaimed YA debut novel translates perfectly to audiobook form.

In the more-than-capable hands of two time Odyssey winner Bahni Turpin, Ireland’s story flows with honeyed malice, trenchant racial, historical, and sexual commentary, betrayals, sudden twists, and deep, rich characters. Turpin, moving effortlessly through the subtle accent shifts from Baltimore to Georgia, gives each character an authentic voice without overdoing it, and generally allows the reader to forget that she’s there and just relax into the story (mistake! No relaxing! Zombies!). Dread Nation is a first person narrative, punctuated by epistolary excerpts that head each chapter and provide a subtle shading to each chapter’s action. Turpin navigates these subtleties with style and really allows all the angles to sink in. Cliffhanger chapter endings suit the audiobook format, and while the action moves quickly, there is enough repetition in the narrative to keep the listener on board.

The production values are excellent, and the only sour note is struck by the abruptness of the ending, which left me wondering if I’d missed a chapter. Hopefully, that means that a sequel is in the works. Dread Nation is an unusual and high quality title graced by the talents of an excellent narrator. I’d say we have a contender here!

Katya Schapiro is a Senior Children’s librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. Some of her first literary loves were audiobooks (on vinyl!), and she remains a voracious listener of radio plays and audiobooks. Originally trained as an actor, she relishes the nuances and the production values of the rapidly expanding audiobook world. Katya also blogs for Guessing Geisel, and reviews for School Library Journal.

Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland, read by Bahni Turpin. 11 hours, 56 minutes. HarperAudio, 2018.

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