Dream Country is a gritty, raw tale of a family of Liberian-Americans who are struggling to come to terms with their past, their present, and their future. It follows multiple branches of the same family tree and spans two continents as we follow back in time to meet the ancestors that shaped the lives of the current Liberian-Americans living in the US.
The book has a different time line trajectory and while at first, I thought it was going to be off-putting, it was well done. It starts in present day and then jettisons you back in time to when Liberia was first becoming a nation and starts the story of how the various generations made their way to the US. The impetus is the ejection of a current US resident by his parents back to Liberia.
Narrative flows in this story quite well. It takes a few chapters to become accustomed to the speech patterns of the Liberian-Americans, but after a few chapters it becomes second nature and no longer detracts from the reading. I was a little put off at first by the rough language that was used between African-American and Liberian characters and even among Liberians themselves, but after a few chapters I realized that while it was derogatory between the African-Americans and Liberians, among the Liberians themselves it was not seen as such.
I would caution younger readers from this novel. I don’t believe they are the intended audience, but there is also some very mature content (see below) and themes throughout this book. Older readers also may struggle with some of the raw subject matter. However, the book is masterfully done and even though all nuances of the racial tensions and experience may not be understood, it doesn’t detract from a beautifully woven family tapestry.
Review of an Advance Reading Copy
This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Profanity/Language: 2 religious exclamations, 13 mild obscenities, 7 religious profanities, 51 derogatory names, 28 scatological words, 25 anatomical terms, and 48 f-word derivatives.
Violence/Gore: Someone spits on boy; two instances of fist fights with minor injuries; two playful punches to arm; 7 verbal threats; man punches teen in stomach; teen pins another against lockers; girl is pushed off bleachers without injury (unclear if accidental or purposeful); fight at school results in one teen being hospitalized; multiple instances of mother or father slapping child’s face; 2 page fight ends in man stabbed to death; man is forcibly walked/dragged behind horse; small cuts and scrapes; 2 page story of man being hanged and set on fire while wife is raped and unborn child is cut from her body and set on display (very violent imagery); threat with knife to throat; death from illness; man killed in village raid (no detail); man killed and body is carved and thrown in river with head left beside river; woman slaps girl’s hands; girl bites lip until bloody; man is kidnapped from own house; dream of president being assassinated; multi-page civil unrest results in man killed by gunshot (no detail), man shot in head (setting described, but not graphic depiction of actual murder) and woman shot with blood pool.
Sex/Nudity: Teen has thoughts about girl’s breasts; boys talk about “dick” sizes; 4 instances of kissing; boy gets erection while watching girl walk down hall; references to women being raped in past or threatened with rape; crude questions regarding sex; 8 page scene of soldiers graphically talking about sex between husband and wife and threatening to rape wife; man grabs woman’s butt; remembrance of nipples being pinched and slapping woman’s butt during slave auction; hand-holding; hug; two references to sex with no detail; 2 page joking between old and young man about sex; man remembers orgasm (no detail); girl dreams of sex (no detail); lesbian couple plan wedding.
Mature Subject Matter:
Racial and socioeconomic conflict, religious conflict, war, murder, death, torture, infidelity, abandonment, poverty, polygamy, slavery, stealing, inter-racial relationships (when not culturally accepted), rape, homosexuality, child labor.
Alcohol / Drug Use:
Teen sells marijuana; adult men drink wine and beer.