Excerpt from Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Dread Nation

by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland X
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 464 pages
    Jun 2019, 480 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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Print Excerpt

The Isaac twins were always up to no good.

They were my favorite people in the whole damn world.

"Hey there, Jane!" called Ezekiel, Zeke for short.

"Aww, Jane's here, now we're gonna get the strap for sure," said his brother Joseph, who was saltier than Lot's wife.

"I snuck off!" I said, as the other kids began to give me dirty looks. "Ain't no one know I'm gone. What're you doing?"

Each of the kids held a stick, the end sharpened, and had the look of someone with a secret.

"None of your business. Go back to the kitchens," Joe said, picking up a rock from the dusty ground and throwing it at me.

The rock missed by a mile, but the one I picked up and flipped back at Joe didn't. It hit him right in the middle of his forehead, and as he cried out I picked up another rock.

"Next person throws a rock at me is getting what for right in their eye," I said, shaking with anger.

"No one's going to throw any rocks, Jane. You should come with us. We're going to kill the dead." Zeke smiled wide and handed me a sharpened stick. While Joseph was prickly and hostile, Zeke was all smiles and warmth, the kind of person people liked to be around. And he had the best ideas. It was no wonder Joe was so tetchy. Who would want to share such a wonderful brother with everyone?

I took the stick. "What do you mean, kill the dead?"

"There's a shambler stuck in the bobbed wire. We're going to kill it."

"That ain't a good idea." As soon as the words were out of my mouth I knew it was the wrong thing to say. But I couldn't help it. I liked trouble as much as the next kid, but this seemed different. Dangerous.

"We're gonna kill it so that we can go on patrols with the rest of the grown-ups," Zeke said with a grin. "No more chores for us!"

"You can stay here, Jane. No one wants you tagging along, anyway," Joe said.

I set my jaw. Whatever Joe said, I was going to do the opposite, just to spite him. "I'm coming. You probably ain't found a shambler, anyhow."

"Oh, it's a shambler all right," Zeke said. "You'll see."

We marched in silence, along the line of the fence rails. A few of the kids began to whisper excitedly, but a single glance back from Joe shut them up real quick. My stomach surged and gurgled, roiling with hot dread. I'd heard Momma and the other farm hands talk about how the dead worked, how they came out of the brush, overwhelming the unwary and wary alike. That was what made shamblers so scary: even when they were predictable, they could still surprise you.

As we rounded the corner a loud moan split the air. There, twisted up in the bobbed wire, was a shambler.

We stopped, and all the celebration and shouting died down real quick. I'd always imagined the dead as some kind of monster: mouth gaping as they came to eat you. But the shambler caught in the bobbed wire looked almost normal: a white woman with long brown hair pinned up on her head, wearing a day dress of green linen. The skirt was torn, and her petticoats showed through. Her eyes were the yellow of crookneck squash, and the nails of her grasping hands had been broken down, her fingers covered with dirt. Still, I recognized her.

"That's Miss Farmer. Her family owns Apple Hill Plantation," I said. Miss Farmer hadn't cared for me—she thought Negroes shouldn't be allowed in the house, since we were dirty—but she loved Momma's blackberry jam enough that she came to call every so often, when it was safe to travel.

"She ain't nobody no more," Joe said, poking her with a stick.

The shambler growled and reached for him. Joe danced out of the way, much to the delight of everyone.

Even me.

Excerpted from Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. Copyright © 2018 by Justina Ireland. Excerpted by permission of Balzer + Bray. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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