Boy howdy, this was a fun romp. What we have here is part horror novel, part historical novel, and part social commentary, all deceivingly packaged as a teen novel.
Jane McKeene is a young African-American woman who is born at the outset of the Civil War--and the beginning of the rise of the undead. Her mother is a light-skinned black woman who passes for white, until Jane is born with considerably darker skin. While the War is taking apart the slavery system, there's a nefarious plot to move these young black people, females and males, into special schools where they can be trained to fight zombies, all while protecting white people. (Note: Also being hauled from their homes for this training are Native Americans.)
Jane is good at fighting the undead; what she's not so good at is the etiquette she's required to learn in order to serve as an Attendant (a zombie fighter assigned to a specific white person to protect them). She's also too smart for her own good, and she's quick to realize that her supposedly safe zone in Baltimore and environs is perhaps not as safe as advertised. People are going missing, and undead sightings in what was thought to be a clear zone are increasing. But when Jane comes too close to the truth, it brings dire consequences.
This is a super fun October read. But it's more than just a breezy zombie novel. Author Justina Ireland does a dandy job of adding social commentary that's as relevant now as it was during the Civil War, and she does it without slowing the narrative down or becoming preachy. Prickly, somewhat arrogant Jane is a heroine for the ages, someone you wouldn't want to get on the bad side of in real life, but someone you'd really want on your side during a zombie uprising.
But Jane also has a tender side. Separated from her beloved mother, she writes frequent letters (not allowed at school, but Jane is nothing if not devious) to her, and longs to graduate from school and return to her mother's plantation. Ireland excerpts these letters at the beginning of every chapter, a very smart way to define that relationship without, again, dragging down the narrative.
It sounds like this is the beginning of a series, and I'm definitely up for that.