Deathless Divide: Dread Nation, Book 2

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Deathless Divide: Dread Nation, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Engaging, occasionally uneven finale to a great story.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will continue to learn about certain fact-based events and individuals, including Frederick Douglass, where a few different tribes hailed from, and how laws were in many ways used to exclude Black, indigenous, and other minority groups. Jane still quotes from Shakespeare and discusses the history of San Francisco's Chinatown.

Positive Messages

Explores many issues still relevant: institutional racism and discrimination, sexism, classism, homophobia. Makes it clear how systematic racism and white supremacy affect all areas of the native and Black community, and how minority groups can be pitted against one another. Reveals how historically, Black lives were believed to be less important than White lives. Promotes importance of teamwork, solidarity, perseverance, even during unthinkably difficult times. Jane and Katherine learn priceless value of unconditional friendship.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jane is courageous, intelligent, well educated, persistent, passionate, but also hot-tempered, vengeful, unforgiving, impulsive. Katherine is supportive, kind, hardworking, disciplined, refined. She's loyal to Jane and her other friends. Both women put themselves in harm's way to rescue their friends. Jackson loves his sister, will do anything to save her. Callie is curious and clever and tries to temper Jane's anger with common sense. Strong representation of African Americans and Native Americans, as well as half-Native, half-African individuals, and people across the LGBTQ spectrum.

Violence

Lots of death, torture, murder: People face their biggest threat from insatiably hungry zombies, aka shamblers, who bite and devour humans, or merely graze them, which causes them to "turn." Characters shoot, stab, decapitate both the living and the undead. A character forcibly injects a serum in people; others willingly subject themselves to it.

Sex

A few kisses, as well as discussions of attraction and desire; a woman bathes with her partner's help, and it's clear they've been intimate. Mention of one character's bisexuality, a couple of characters' same-sex relationships, another's asexual feelings. Jane and Katherine befriend women who worked in a brothel.

Language

Infrequent cursing ("goddamn," "s--t," "damn," "hell") and name-calling ("stupid," "fallen," "soiled dove"), but frequent use of antiquated racial slurs and language: "darkie," "colored," "Negro."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink at dinners, men smoke pipes; use of laudanum, smelling salts, other medicines is mentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Deathless Divide is the second and final book in the Dread Nation duology by bestselling author Justina Ireland, about an alternative American history in which the undead rising from battlefields is what ends the Civil War. The book follows the events of Dread Nation, with protagonist Jane, her frenemy Katherine, and a group of other humans fleeing a Kansas town that becomes overrun with zombies (or "shamblers" as they're called in the books). Like its predecessor, Deathless Divide features a steady amount of violence, with most of the deaths being courtesy of the undead eating living humans, or from humans shooting, stabbing, or decapitating the shamblers or other humans. A few time period-appropriate racial slurs are included ("darkie," "colored," "Negro" are the most common) in the story, but never the "N" word. Romance includes some kisses, mentions of desire, and references to a couple being together. Representation includes not only African Americans, Native Americans, and Chinese Americans, but also lesbian, gay, bisexual, and asexual identities (even if they're never labeled). Parents and teens have plenty to discuss about the aspects of the book inspired by historical events and people, and the relevance of dealing with a seemingly uncontrollable, deadly epidemic.

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What's the story?

DEATHLESS DIVIDE takes place after the culminating events of Dread Nation, with Jane, Katherine, Jackson, and a small group of women with children under their protection fleeing Summerland after it's overrun by shamblers. Despite Jackson's objections, the group votes to head to the nearest egalitarian city. After a tragic collision with a horde of shamblers, the group arrives to find that Jane is wanted for the murder of Summerland's racist sherriff. There she also finds an unnervingly calm Gideon, who believes he has mastered the formula for a vaccine that can render people immune to a shambler bite. But without enough evidence, it becomes increasingly clear that Gideon's vaccine is more likely to cause humans to turn into zombies than to grant them immunity. Catastrophe after catastrophe ensues, hurtling Jane and Katherine to separate but intertwined futures.

Is it any good?

It's difficult to follow up a magnificent epic with a sequel that's equally worthy, but Justina Ireland's second installment is still an entertaining and thought-provoking read. Jane's and Katherine's dual points of view are distinct and easy to distinguish (something that stumps even talented writers), and each has a riveting character arc full of loss, grief, adventure, romance (for Jane, anyway), and lasting friendship. Characterization of the main protagonists is fabulous, as is the expansion of the world-building of this alternate-universe late-19th-century America. Jane continues to be a complicated, unconventional heroine who is stubborn and overconfident and even ruthless. Katherine, meanwhile, is thoughtful, no-nonsense, rational, and passionately devoted to a fault.

There are some niggling issues that keep the sequel from measuring up to the first book, however. The pacing is uneven, feeling rushed in parts that deserve more explanation and attention. Several characters (in a huge cast) and plot points are described in detail and assumed to be interesting or important, but they're never given closure or addressed in a satisfying manner. The villain of the sequel is problematic and wrong-minded but not quite nefarious enough to merit the same Big Bad status as the monsters of the first book. In a world where so many morally corrupt characters are afforded their humanity and time for redemption, it was hard to see the capital-e Evil of the antagonist until the very end. And then there's the issue of a plot device that's fairly common in sci-fi/fantasy but falls sort of flat here, providing even more unanswered questions and shoehorning in a romance that happens off the page. Despite all of these complaints, Ireland is a skilled writer who weaves in powerful themes of race and representation, white supremacy, and justice. As a whole, this two-book series is an unputdownable must-read from one of YA's boldest authors.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the amount of violence and the role it plays in Deathless Divide. How does it compare to the violence in Dread Nation? Why is violence necessary to the story?

  • How do issues of gender and race figure into the story? Why are both forms of identity so central to it?

  • Some parts of Deathless Divide are based in historical fact, like the existence of Native American boarding schools, the 1849 Gold Rush, or the writings of Frederick Douglass, but other non-supernatural aspects of the book are complete fiction. Is that confusing, or does it make you curious to study the time period?

  • Who do you think qualifies as a role model in the book? What character strengths do they display? Why are perseverance, teamwork, and courage important to the story?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and zombies

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