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  • The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell by Kate Brauning
  • April Spisak
Brauning, Kate The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell. Page Street, 2021 [368p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781645673125 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781645673132 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R Gr. 9-12

In a version of the Ozarks set in a grim dystopian future, Dinah tries to do her best for her family while chafing under the tyranny of Gabriel Gates, to whom everyone owes an impossible amount of money. He’s bought the law and he is surrounded by bodyguards, so when Gabriel causes an unspeakable tragedy in Dinah’s life, she knows that her newfound mission of brutal revenge won’t be easy. As far as she’s concerned, however, her life is over, so she’s prepared for death during her assassination attempt as long as Gabriel goes down with her. Brauning shakes up the dystopian tropes by tossing out a few utopian elements to mix up the perspective: this is a hardscrabble and nearly hopeless life, sure, but at least folks are free to love whomever they want. In fact, Dinah rediscovers her own moral compass and the value of her own life via two viable and concurrent romances, with Kara, her best friend whom she has always longed for, and Johnny, a bootlegger who against his own best wishes decides to help Dinah mount a revolution. There’s no real hint of nuance to Gabriel, but he makes an excellent villain for the scrappy good guys, and the more complex Dinah is absolutely relatable as a mess of fury, grief, lust, righteous indignation, and clumsy, albeit well-intentioned choices.