Having learned about the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot(Massacre) in high school but wanting to know more, I was curious to check out this book after hearing an interview with the author on the radio. I'll admit I was skeptical at first of the premise, as well as the YA and fiction-take on the story; I wasn't sure if the truth would be "watered down" or if certain artistic liberties (the protagonists, all characters with dialogue, are fictional) would be disrespectful or take the reader away from the reality of the time. This is a story that needs to be more widely known and understood.
I was pleasantly surprised and happy that my fears were unfounded. Dreamland Burning was a riveting page-turner, and as a long-time Tulsan I found myself beaming with pride whenever I recognized a local reference (there are lots of Tulsa name-drops in this book, from local locales to historical figures to the "pace" of life here) and equally appalled or disgusted when faced with the harsh reality that was Tulsa, OK in 1921. This was a terrible time in Tulsa's past, and for too long the city has tried to forget it ever happened. Thankfully that is changing, in part to books like this.
Yes, at its heart this is a YA novel, so i felt at times like the dialogue was clunky and certain aspects of the history were "softened", though never omitted entirely. To her credit the author addresses as much in an epilogue. But the positive aspects of the book far outweigh its flaws, and I think everyone from a high school student to an adult history buff can enjoy this book very much. This is not the definitive tome on the Tulsa Race Massacre mind you, but it is an enthralling introduction to a sensitive subject from history and heated topics that sadly are still very relevant today. The decision to stagger two narratives, one in 1921, one in present day, ends up being a compelling way to bring history to life, to show in what ways progress has been made, and in what ways it hasn't.
I have spent many of my formative years in and around the Greenwood area of Tulsa, what was once a burgeoning hub for an isolated black community known as "Black Wallstreet", and it can be hard to picture what once was, and what was lost. But "Dreamland Burning" transports the reader to a forgotten era and a once-forgotten tragedy, and hopefully plants even the tiniest seeds of understanding and growth, so that all the pain suffered in 1921 will not have been for naught.