Book Review: Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson – Rage and Hope Come Together in a Story of Resistance and Police Brutality

Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson

Jamal Lawson just wanted to be a part of something. As an aspiring journalist, he packs up his camera and heads to Baltimore to document a rally protesting police brutality after another Black man is murdered.

But before it even really begins, the city implements a new safety protocol…the Dome. The Dome surrounds the city, forcing those within to subscribe to a total militarized shutdown. No one can get in, and no one can get out.

Alone in a strange place, Jamal doesn’t know where to turn…until he meets hacker Marco, who knows more than he lets on, and Catherine, an AWOL basic-training-graduate, whose parents helped build the initial plans for the Dome.

As unrest inside of Baltimore grows throughout the days-long lockdown, Marco, Catherine, and Jamal take the fight directly to the chief of police. But the city is corrupt from the inside out, and it’s going to take everything they have to survive.

I received a digital advanced readers copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Survive the Dome feels like a breathing manifestation of the emotions felt in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. Rage, frustration, anxiety, and pain simmer across the story, held together by a fierce hope in which a queer Black boy saves the city. The story follows Jamal, a Black queer teen journalist who attends a Black Lives Matter protest – against the wishes of his mother – but gets trapped in the city when a large technological dome forms around Baltimore proper. With nowhere to go, Jamal crosses paths with Marco, a mysterious Latino teen hacker, Jamal becomes intertwined with the resistance inside – and becomes instrumental to the fight against corruption and abuse of power.

On the surface, Survive the Dome is a heart-racing and action-packed read. Trapped inside Baltimore and initially friendless, Jamal does what he can to survive though he’s unsure of who to trust. The stakes are high in Survive the Dome; from avoiding and hiding from the police’s violent efforts to suppress the protests to plotting an operation to return the city to its people, every moment is tense. Violence is explicit in the story; from physical violence, the casual sexism and racism, and the ‘everyday’ fears that marginalised groups live with, Survive the Dome reflects the fears, anxieties, and realities experienced by communities of colour.

Survive the Dome isn’t purely an action story only about violence and resistance to that violence. There’s a hint of Inhabiting the small moments in between the tense ones is a thread of defiance against a system that sets up its Black and brown people up to fail. From the tender yet brave moments to feel love and connection when the next hour doesn’t feel promised to Jamal’s quiet meditations of his place in society as a Black queer man, Survive the Dome never loses sight of the ‘why’ – why fighting against injustice and standing up for what is right always matters.

Furthermore, what makes Jamal such a compelling character – though Marco and Catherine shine bright in this story – is that he’s an ordinary teenager; he’s concerned by college applications, passionate about his photography, doesn’t always agree with his mother, he’s worried about his boyfriend not being the right person for him (and finds love amidst the chaos), and wants to make it somehow. And yet, he finds a way to save the city – not because he’s particularly special, but because anyone and everyone can stand up to injustice, and Jamal does so with courage, even if it thoroughly terrifies him.

I hesitate to call this book ‘dystopian’. Indeed, Survive the Dome has a science-fiction feel with its technological dome structure that befalls over Baltimore city, police clad in hi-tech suits of battle armour, and a desperate race against time to save the city and its people. But dress down the science-fiction elements of this book, and what remains is the same as what we witnessed during the Black Lives Matter protests: institutional violence, systemic racism, and police brutality. Survive the Dome may be fictional in a sense, but the events and implications of this book are a window into the realities of being Black in America.

On one hand, Survive the Dome is an exciting and compelling story with a fascinating premise and plenty of action. On the other hand, Survive the Dome is also a story about anger at the violence perpetuated against Black and brown communities in America, one that also offers a tentative yet fierce hope that, together, the people can be stronger than injustice.

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A teen gets trapped while attending a protest after a ‘safety protocol’ called the Dome is activated over the city of Baltimore.

Perfect for: Readers looking for an action-packed and intense story; readers looking for a story about Black Lives Matter; readers who enjoy resistance stories.

Think twice if: Readers who don’t enjoy speculative fiction and aren’t interested in the story’s premise.

Genre: young adult contemporary with science-fiction elements

Trigger/content warning: explicit police brutality and violence, gun violence, physical violence, blood mentions, explicit racism, kidnapping, mentions of death of parent, use of racist slurs.

Find this book on:
Goodreads | Bookshop | Indiebound | Amazon

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