Latham crafts a well-paced mystery that successfully intertwines the past and present as it examines race, class, and the price of forgetting history.
“History only moves forward in a straight line when we learn from it. Otherwise it loops past the same mistakes over and over again.”
It’s a sentiment expressed early on by Rowan, one of the two protagonists at the center of Dreamland Burning, but it’s one that is slowly driven home as the gripping novel comes to a close. And with the story set half in 1920s Tulsa, half in the present day, it’s a constant reminder that history—and what we choose to remember and forget—can have a big hand in the present.
It’s also what makes Latham’s writing so effective. Readers learn about the Tulsa race riots of 1921, not just in the past, as her second protagonist William experiences the events that lead up to them (including the riots themselves), but also in the present as Rowan slowly uncovers a section of history she wasn’t aware of, while investigating the mystery of the skeleton found in her house’s yard. Adding a layer to the unfolding events and slowly unraveling mystery, are the parallels between both teens, despite their living a hundred years apart. Both Rowan and William are biracial (her, African American and white, him Native American and white) and come from fairly middle-class families, something that highlights their shared experiences while also presenting them with different sets of privilege to confront.
At its core, Dreamland Burning is a well-crafted, well-paced mystery that keeps readers guessing as to the identity of the skeleton until the very end while also proving to be an effective examination of race and class and the history we choose to forget.