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 Melanie Wachsmann’s review and Katya Schapiro’s review is here.
In this alternate history, two days after the birth of Jane McKee, the undead, or shamblers, begin walking among the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. WIth the Civil War on hold, the North and South enact the Native and Negro Reeducation Act, which means that Jane, who is biracial, will be attending Ms. Preston’s school of combat. At these schools students are taught how to kill the undead to keep the living safe.
Jane is a dynamic character who is spontaneous, sassy, and not one to follow all of the rules. She is skillful with her weapons and prides herself on her ability to take down shamblers. As graduation day nears, Jane is looking forward to returning to her family in Kentucky; however, her plans change. Jane heads east with her friend Red Jack to find his sister, Lily, and they end up in a colony of survivalists. It is here that she discovers that things among this group of people are not quite right, and Jane must fight to stay alive to have the chance to see her family again. The twists and turns, large cast of unique characters, and the shamblers will keep listeners hooked. This book will also spark conversations about the history of the United States, slavery, and the treatment of Native Americans.
Narrator Bahni Turrpin, a two-time Odyssey Award winner in 2011 for The True Meaning of Smekday and in 2018 for The Hate U Give, makes this a truly enjoyable audiobook. Jane is a multidimensional character, and Turpin defty navigates between scenes of heavy emotion, action, and code switching, as well as, the growth in Jane’s character as she moves from Ms. Preston’s to the east with the survivalists. In addition, the fun cast of characters gives Turpin the opportunity to share with listeners her skill of accents, tone, and register. Her pacing is especially poignant during the action scenes, keeping listeners on the edge of their seat.
Overall, Dread Nation is a novel that benefits from an audio, especially one with a skilled narrator like Bahni Turpin. It is a longer audio that is twelve hours in length, but I never found that I was bored or that my attention wandered. Turpin’s narration of Jane with her spunky personality and tenacity makes this a book that is best read with your ears.
Melanie Wachsmann is a native Texan and a Reference/Teen Librarian at joint use community college and public library outside of Houston. She is a member of YALSA and served on both Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults and Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults. Melanie is a true audiophile and spreads her love of audiobooks to readers of all ages. In her spare time she enjoys movies, her fur babies, and board games. You can follow her sporadic tweets at @LibrarianMel.
Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland, read by Bahni Turpin. 11 hours, 56 minutes, digital. HarperAudio, 2018.