Dream Country

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Dream Country Book Poster Image
Gripping five-generation saga of an African American family.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Efforts of the American Colonization Society to send free African Americans to Africa (and their lives once they arrived in what is now Liberia) is something that's rarely if ever covered in history textbooks. Readers will learn about hardships they faced on arrival (clearing land, building communities, battling disease) and the violent conflicts between descendants of the African American colonists and Liberia's indigenous people that have lasted into this century. Includes suggestions for further reading, a list of selected videos, a timeline of major events in Liberian history from 1816 to 2017.

Positive Messages

Freedom is worth the courage, sacrifice it can demand.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A widowed Yasmine Wright has courage to take her four children across an ocean, into unknown land to give them a chance for a truly free life. Her daughter, Lani, refuses to let prejudice keep her from marrying the man she loves. Ujay Flomo is forced to flee Liberia because of his political activism, forges a new life for his family in America.

Violence

While violence is constantly in background of several sections (African American colonists attack several local tribes, an ongoing civil war has both civilian and military casualties), only a few episodes are described in any detail: A man is hung and set afire, a pregnant woman is butchered, and the President of Liberia is assassinated.

Sex
Language

The first section of the novel barely lets a page go by without profanity ("f---ing motherf----rs," "goddam," "a--hole," "s--t," "p---y," "f-g," "bitch"). Contemporary characters are called the "N" word, and the African Americans colonists in Liberia call the indigenous people "savages," "black blacks," and "heathens."

Consumerism

Only a few mentions. Bose, Best Buy, Dark Souls II, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One character does some minor drug dealing.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shannon Gibney's Dream Country is the story of five generations of an African American family. It begins with a rebellious teen, son of Liberian immigrants living in present day Minnesota, and then flashes back to 1926 and a young husband and father on the run from Liberian government troops in search of forced labor for plantations owned by descendants of African American colonists. The story then flashes further back to 1827 as a widow and her four children leave Virginia for a new life in what would become Liberia, and finally to the 1980s and '90s and the ongoing civil war that will make refugees of the parents of that rebellious teen. There's lots of profanity in the first section of the novel ("f---ing motherf-----s," "a--hole," "p---y," "f-g," "bitch"), and although the characters live through violent times, only a few episodes are described in any detail: A man is hung and set afire, a pregnant woman is butchered, the President of Liberia is assassinated. Dream Country is a compelling account of chapters in African American and African history that may be unfamiliar to both teens and parents.

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What's the story?

DREAM COUNTRY is divided into five sections, each one highlighting members of five generations of an African American family. In the first section, set in Minneapolis in 2008, 17-year-old Kollie Flomo has become such a problem for his immigrant parents that they've decided to send him back to Liberia, the country they'd left seeking refuge from a violent civil war. The second section is the story of Kollie's ancestor Togar as a teenager. It's 1926 and Togar, a new husband and father, has fled his village to escape being forced to work on plantations owned by the Congo people -- the name given to free African Americans who settled in Liberia beginning in the 1820s. Upon arriving in Liberia, it seems those African Americans were quick to label the indigenous people as "savages" and set about dominating them much as plantation owners in the U.S. had once dominated them. The third section flashes back to 1827 Virginia as Yasmine, a young widow with four children, has left the planation where they were "workers" (not slaves) and walked with her family to Norfolk, where abolitionists arrange passage for them to Liberia. Yasmine prospers, becoming one of the most important landowners in the capital. But her daughter, Lani, falls in love with a Bassa man (one of the "savages") and, to her mother's horror, goes to live with his family. Kollie's father, Ujay Flomo, is the central figure in the fourth section, which begins in 1980. He's a political activist, a dangerous thing when the Congo people are cracking down on any dissent from indigenous people like the Bassas. His activism will eventually lead to his fleeing the country and living in a refugee camp in Ghana before immigrating with his family to the U.S. The last section is written in 2018 by Kollie's sister, Angel, and brings readers up to date on what has happened to the family.

Is it any good?

African American and African history are brought vividly to life through the gripping, inspiring, and often tragic story of five generations of one family. Racial prejudice is at the core of Dream Country -- Kollie is both too black and not black enough for his African American classmates, and the Congo people treat the indigenous people of Liberia as harshly as plantation owners had treated their ancestors. This should open up some serious discussions about the nature of prejudice and what it would be like to experience it from someone very much like yourself.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about racial prejudice in Dream Country. Were you surprised that the free African Americans who came to Liberia were so quick to label the people already living in the country as "savages" and "heathens," treating them much as plantation owners had once treated them, and looking down on them for having darker skin? 

  • Does your school have students who are immigrants? Have they been welcomed or do they still feel like outsiders? What kind of challenges have they faced in trying to adapt to life as an American teenager?

  • If you were to trace your family heritage back five generations, do you know where your ancestors would have been living?

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