Dream Country by Shannon Gibney

Dream Country

Shannon Gibney

In Dream Country, Shannon Gibney spins a riveting tale of the nightmarish spiral of death and exile connecting America and Africa, and of how one determined young dreamer tries to break free and gain control of her destiny.

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The heartbreaking story of five generations of young people from a single African-and-American family pursuing an elusive dream of freedom.

"Gut wrenching and incredible.”— Sabaa Tahir #1 New York Times bestselling author of An Ember in the Ashes

"This novel is a remarkable achievement."—Kelly Barnhill, New York Times bestselling author and Newbery medalist

"Beautifully epic."—Ibi Zoboi, author American Street and National Book Award finalist

Dream Country begins in suburban Minneapolis at the moment when seventeen-year-old Kollie Flomo begins to crack under the strain of his life as a Liberian refugee. He's exhausted by being at once too black and not black enough for his African American peers and worn down by the expectations of his own Liberian family and community. When his frustration finally spills into violence and his parents send him back to Monrovia to reform school, the story shifts. Like Kollie, readers travel back to Liberia, but also back in time, to the early twentieth century and the point of view of Togar Somah, an eighteen-year-old indigenous Liberian on the run from government militias that would force him to work the plantations of the Congo people, descendants of the African American slaves who colonized Liberia almost a century earlier. When Togar's section draws to a shocking close, the novel jumps again, back to America in 1827, to the children of Yasmine Wright, who leave a Virginia plantation with their mother for Liberia, where they're promised freedom and a chance at self-determination by the American Colonization Society. The Wrights begin their section by fleeing the whip and by its close, they are then the ones who wield it. With each new section, the novel uncovers fresh hope and resonating heartbreak, all based on historical fact.

In Dream Country, Shannon Gibney spins a riveting tale of the nightmarish spiral of death and exile connecting America and Africa, and of how one determined young dreamer tries to break free and gain control of her destiny.


Advance Galley Reviews

I think this is a really important book and a really important story. I struggled with some of the flow of the stories though which made the book difficult to get through. Full of valuable information and stories that are often not heard though.

I was so disappointed because the language was so horrible in the first two chapters that I couldn't continue to read it. This makes me sad because I had high hopes for this book.

‘’The truth is fluid and fungible and untrustworthy and won’t abide by any one telling. And sometimes, in inventing the truth, we can discover something deeper. We can find our place in the story, because that, at least, is one thing we can make for ourselves. A story. No matter how busted our family, how lost our history.’’ Dream country tells the story of a family lineage through history, from the 19th century until now. Every part has a different protagonist and an image of the matching part of the family tree. It is the story about Liberian immigrants, war, slavery, discrimination. What I found interesting was the portrayal of discrimination of black people by black people, the Congo and Liberian people, the African Americans and the African immigrants and the indigenous Liberian people and the Immigrants. The difference between white, black or even black-black. Even though almost all of the stories have gut clenching, life-changing pain in them I felt somehow empowered by the stories. And where at first I didn’t really like the characters or the story I found myself being drawn in by Gibney’s writing style and the stories. Dream Country tells the stories of the many Liberian people that couldn’t tell them themselves, but need to be told.

In 2008, seventeen-year-old Kollie Flomo struggles with his identity as a Liberian refugee. After his frustration manefists in violence, his parents send him back to Monrovia, readers are transported through the history of his family and their country. There’s a lot to unpack here. Fortunately, Gibney’s prose is so beautiful and compelling, making it perfect for repeat readings. I am in awe by the raw complexity she was able to weave into each of these stories.

Since I have lived in the Twin Cities, the world that Gibney's novel initially dropped me into was not all that unfamiliar. There is a great deal of friction between the African immigrant and African American (descended from slaves) communities there (and many other places). The plot line extends for the entire book, snippets tracing back into history in Liberia and America and then forward again to modern America, centers around this conflict between what others would call two black cultures, although in Liberia, African Americans are often seen as white. Liberia was founded by those who thought it was best to deal with the slave issue by sending African Americans back to Africa. Often the founders of the movement were very racist, believing blacks too uncivilized to live alongside whites. And so the whites gifted a plot of Africa to the freed slaves that was not theirs to give, setting up generations of struggle. I was vaguely aware of both the origin story of Liberia and the death of President Tolbert in 1980, but between this novel and additional research it inspired me to undertake, I've learned a lot more. The author herself was intrigued by the idea she tripped across while visiting western Africa, that "her people" had colonized a nation there, according to Liberians she met. That encounter evolved into this intriguing and thought-provoking exploration of race and identity in Liberian history, as well as children of her own that are now half Liberian American and half African American. It's a fascinating take. I can't say that the characters in the book are universally relatable or likable, but the book doesn't depend on them for its strength, so it works well. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

A very good novel, that reads as if it is someone's real history.....& it very well might follow someone's lineage. It begins in present day Minneapolis, then finds it's way back to the 1800's America & to Liberia.....& then comes full circle back to present day USA......all tracing this family's lineage. The book also tells about the historical circumstances & results of the colonization of Liberia....... all an education for this reader. Really very interesting how she tied all the generations together...passing on that necklace. I also really liked at the end of the book where she documented the historical dates affecting Liberia, & her acknowledgements were interesting too. The title of the book is certainly appropriate, applying both to Liberia & the USA........& the subject matter, dealing with refugees & their dreams & challenges, is timely. I really liked this book, & enjoyed the educational aspect of it too. I received this e-ARC from Penguin's First-To-Read giveaway program, in exchange for my own honest opinion/review.

Once I started reading this book, I was immediately hooked. Great storytelling of a culture (and later a country) I really know nothing about. My only complaint about this book is that it wasn't longer. I felt that I could just keep reading more and more and not mind and was disappointed when I couldn't go further; which I feel is the true measure of a great book.

I so wanted to read this book, but it sadly DID not open on the reader. I re-downloaded, I also reinstalled the reader. No matter what I did, i think I recieved a broken link? Thats a shame since I was looking forward to reading this a lot.

This is a must-read. I loved it, all through, from the first page until the last chapter where the author explains how the book came together. This is the story of Kollie, a Liberian teenager who comes to America as a kid as a refugee. Racial tensions between African American and African immigrants create a hostile environment that pushes him to the edge. His parents then send him back to Liberia, a country he left when he was too young to remember. Needless to say, he is to received there with open arms, and he even gets called “white kid”. This is not only his story but if generations before him, from the first American settlers in Liberia to his parents. The author did a great job making this story feel REAL. Really, history is written by the victor and this book made me un-learn that great American story of the funding of Liberia by former slaves. I can totally see this story replicating itself with American teens forced to go back to their parents’ countries in Latin America, a place they left when they were too young to know. This is, overall, a story of immigration and adaptation, of America long ago and today.

This book was so many things for me. It was a history lesson first and foremost but in the most entertaining and engrossing way. This book reveals and uncovers a part of African and American history that I believe the majority of readers from all backgrounds likely no little about, the colonization of Liberia. If you Google “Liberia colonization” the first hit (Wikipedia) describes it succinctly as , “ Liberia is a country in West Africa which was founded, established, colonized, and controlled by citizens of the United States and ex-Caribbean slaves as a colony for former African American slaves and their free black descendants”. Dream Country begins to explore the trauma of colonization from present day, in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Kollie is a teenage Liberian refugee who is struggling to make sense of the complexities of his Liberian culture in America. As tensions rise between the African and African-American students Kollie makes a series of careless decisions that changes the course of his life. Kollie’s story is the first of many in Dream Country that weaves together separate but intertwined and heartfelt stories spanning from present day America to the beginning of colonization in Liberia. Throughout the book you get to know all the characters and their emotions in a very deep and personal way. As a first generation Haitian American woman I identified and was given so much from this work. The setting in the first section of the book took place in a suburb of my hometown in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, where many Liberian refugees have resettled. Gibney writes the Liberian English patwa and paints the Liberian culture with such accuracy that I felt like I was in the home of a Liberian neighbor. Gibney made me feel the struggles of immigrants and emigrants alike; the loss of identity and hope, self-sacrifice, and a longing for a home and reunion that will likely never come to pass for most. I was forced to think and ponder on my own family’s struggle in a new light. I was left with deep appreciation and sadness for the story of the Liberian people and so many others whose history and story is so rich, broken, and often untold. Lastly this novel has piqued my interest about a part of history that I admittedly know so little about but am now eager to learn more. I really enjoyed the character development, vivid details, and the ability that Gibney had to pull me in to each character. I was left with a longing to know what happened to each and every character. The lack of closure I believe was very purposeful on Gibney’s part. Kollie and his sister (Angel) are one of the only characters that makes a full arc in the story from beginning to end and in the end I wanted more closure. What happened to that young, confused, and scared teenage boy? Is he okay? Like all of the stories embedded in Dream Country I feel like there are a hundred others waiting to be told! This was one of my favorite reads in a long time.Thank you for this work Shannon Gibney !

"Dream Country" starts with the story of Kollie, an high school student in Minneapolis, whose family immigrated to the US from Liberia when he was 8 years old. We learn of the tension between native African-Americans and the newer Liberian emigrees, which culminates in a fight involving Kollie. His distraught parents decide to return him to Liberia. The story then time leaps backwards, telling of Kollie's ancestors in the early 1900s, and again those who were settlers of Liberia after fleeing indentured servitude (and slavery) in America. While the characters are clearly related, their links are tenuous. As the final vignette unfolded, I was a bit disappointed that they would not be clearly braided together. But in the end, the final chapter unfolds in the only way it can when discussing a history which is so unknown, and unrecorded. A quick and interestng read. Highly recommend.

 


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