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Teen Advisory Board Interviews: Justina Ireland for Dread Nation

Dread Nation by Justine Ireland

Our Teen Advisory Board President, Ava, was able to sit down and chat with author Justina Ireland. Justina is the author of the highly anticipated novel, Dread Nation. "At once provocative, terrifying, and darkly subversive, Dread Nation is Justina Ireland's stunning vision of an America both foreign and familiar--a country on the brink, at the explosive crossroads where race, humanity, and survival meet."

Justina Ireland Author Photo

1. Q:How did you go about creating the gutsy character of Jane? What about Katherine?

A: I wanted to show a Black girl living her best life and thriving in the 1800s. But mostly I wanted to create her with the same kind of traits that we usually bestow upon male characters: bravado, grit, and swagger. So I looked at characters like Huck Finn and real life people like Doc Holliday and came up with Jane, this ridiculously larger than life girl who takes no nonsense from anyone.

And Katherine is the opposite of Jane, because she’s the girl we usually see depicted in stories set in the 1800s: dutiful, demure, and polite.  Between the two of them we get a fuller idea of the range of traits girls can and do have.  Girls contain multitudes.

2. Q: What was the teenage Justina like? Did you write much as a teen?

A: I read. A lot. And sometimes went to the mall with my friends. But mostly, I read. And sometimes watched anime.

3. Q:What are Jane and Katherine’s Pottermore houses?

A: Jane is most definitely a Slytherin, because she has no compunctions doing what needs to be done to achieve her endgame.  It just happens that her goals are to ensure Katherine is Gryffindor because she believes very strongly in doing the right thing, but she’s also very calculated in the risks she takes.  Plus, she loves following the rules. So Katherine I would saw is more Gryffinclaw than straight Gryff.

4. Q: As a Chinese person, I was curious about your decision to ban the Chinese from Summerland.

A: Anti-Chinese racism was prevalent and virulent in the late 1800s. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned all immigration to the US from China.  But that was the end of a long and fraught anti-Chinese campaign in the United States.  Part of that campaign involved running Chinese business people from towns, including burning their businesses, which is why so many Chinese settled into cities where it was less dangerous.  A similar thing happened to Blacks in towns as well, and in fact when Oregon was founded as a state it prohibited anyone Black from residing there.

Summerland didn’t end up the way it is organically, but because the people in charge acted upon their racist beliefs.  So there are no Chinese in Summerland, but there once were because Chinese settlers were like anyone else looking for a new way of life in the mid-19th century.  They settled all over.  Likewise there are no Natives in town, for the same reason as the Chinese.  I’m of the mind that if there are no minorities in your areas there’s a reason for that and we should ask ourselves why.

But! You will see more Chinese characters and Native characters in book two when Jane and Katherine head out West.

5. Q: I loved the word play in the title! What was the process for coming up with it?

A: That was all my editor. I am terrible with titles. He wanted something that conveyed the American History aspect of the story and also zombies! And then, Dread Nation was born.

6. Q: I enjoy reading about relationships in which enemies become friends (for example, Elphaba and Glinda from Wicked). Is this how you envisioned Jane and Katherine’s relationship from the beginning, and if not, how did their relationship evolve?

A: I did! There’s a lot of unreasonable girl on girl hate in YA, and I wanted to kind of play off of that by showing how jealousy has nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with how you feel. And so, Jane’s savvy enough to understand that her dislike of Katherine has nothing to do with Katherine and everything to do with her response to her. 

Plus, I’m also of the mind that dire circumstances create the best of friends.

Dread Nation will be available April 3rd. You can pre-order it here. 

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