By Jennifer Latham
Genre: Historical Fiction
Expected Publication Date: February 21, 2017
Bang Bang Rating:
Rowan Chase found a body during the renovation of her house in contemporary Tulsa. With a DA for a mother and an interest in medicine, Rowan (half Black half White) and her best friend James (self proclaimed asexual half Black half Native American) decide to investigate. In alternating chapters, we meet William Tillman (half White half Native American) who sells victrolas in Tulsa in 1921. William befriends a Black teen and his younger sister who is the only interesting character in the entire novel. In the days after William meets his new Black friends, a race riot breaks out changing Tulsa forever.
In Rowan’s chapters, we meet a teen whose lived in a privileged home and has little knowledge of the Tulsa race riots of 1921. Rowan attends the good high school in the good part of town and is interning to get into a good college and although she knows about racism; she isn’t exposed to it in her daily life but James is and makes her aware of her bubble existence. Rowan gets a taste of the wrong side of the tracks while interning in a clinic thus beginning her slow and boring growth.
In William’s chapters, we meet a meek boy who learns lessons about doing business with Negroes from his father. His father deals with the situation the best he can but his decisions later in the novel are uneven to the majority of his presence. Considering he has a wife that’s Native American, you’d think he’d be more sensitive to the plight of the Black man in 1921. William has lots of growing to do but in the meantime, he is not a dynamic character. He’s not witty or smart or remotely interesting.
Dreamland Burning read more like a history book and would have worked better as a mystery. Instead of giving the reader a chance to solve the mystery with Rowan and James, we are just told information and eventually the identity of the dead body by other characters. Latham seemed to try too hard with all the diverse characters. William’s mother was Native American and her story in relation to the time period was interesting but because the focus was heavily on Blacks, her story seemed like an after thought and had little to no impact on the plot. Latham should have left that out and made William White.
In the author note, Latham who is from Tulsa said that this part of history in not discussed which makes it all the more interesting but the parallels to today’s race struggles with #blacklivesmatter (which was mentioned) was too on the nose. Coupled with the weak character development and the telling rather than showing, Dreamland Burning was a missed opportunity to tell an important story.
I will buy it for my collection because it’s about a little known time in American history (I didn’t know anything about it) but I won’t give it to a teen who’s looking to be challenged.