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Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

March 16, 2018

Racism is a problem that always seems to circulate through our society— no matter how many improvements we make as a country. It isn’t just rude remarks, or a racial stereotype. Racism is toxic and can consume a whole nation. But Dreamland Burning shows that, no matter the era, one brave person can change many lives.

Rowan Chase had no idea that the choice to investigate a century-old murder on her property could lead to the discovery of brutal, racist truths from the past. As she learns, she realizes the similarities between modern day issues and history’s conflicts.

Meanwhile, Will   Tillman is living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the roaring twenties. As he witnesses racism, he becomes aware of the harmful actions geared towards the black community. He sees how children are put in danger by racist minds. Will knows that racism is wrong and is afraid of it at first. But when a certain, defiant friendship ignites, he feels the need to help those in danger, even if it means risking his life.

Latham’s purpose in writing this book was to show the parallels between contemporary America and the past. She used the thrill of a mystery to keep the story moving and connect the two eras. She included both clues from Rowan’s discovery, and from Will’s life. As the lives of these two start to intertwine, the clues slowly add up. Latham sets up false information in both time periods so clues don’t always match, creating an unpredictable outcome. Readers don’t know the truthful information until the secrets are unveiled. This unusual mystery not only lets the reader follow the story of the detective but also chase the characters who are living the mystery.

Rowan starts out as a naive teenager who has yet to experience the harm of the world. William has been taught that whites are superior and has never second guessed his father’s words— until he is turned aghast by the unfair actions of white men. Latham develops the characters similarly and illustrates the way that change occurs in one’s actions based on events in his or her life. When writing, Latham had to carefully ensure that the characters and plots developed at the same rate. If she moved one faster than the other, then the mystery would be revealed prematurely.

Dreamland Burning gives the reader more than enough: a page-turning mystery, ideas to ponder, and relatable protagonists coming of age. It is clear that Latham has thought about how the present depends so much on the past. She has contemplated the recurring issues that haunt our society and knows that this unconventional mystery will urge the reader to consider these concepts as well.


Little Brown, 365 pages

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