Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: The Dry Grass of August (Anna Jean Mayhew)

The Dry Grass of August
Written By: Anna Jean Mayhew
Published By: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Published On: April 1, 2011
Pages: 352

In this beautifully written debut, Anna Jean Mayhew offers a riveting depiction of Southern life in the throes of segregation, what it will mean for a young girl on her way to adulthood--and for the woman who means the world to her. . .

On a scorching day in August 1954, thirteen-year-old Jubie Watts leaves Charlotte, North Carolina, with her family for a Florida vacation. Crammed into the Packard along with Jubie are her three siblings, her mother, and the family's black maid, Mary Luther. For as long as Jubie can remember, Mary has been there--cooking, cleaning, compensating for her father's rages and her mother's benign neglect, and loving Jubie unconditionally.

Bright and curious, Jubie takes note of the anti-integration signs they pass, and of the racial tension that builds as they journey further south. But she could never have predicted the shocking turn their trip will take. Now, in the wake of tragedy, Jubie must confront her parents' failings and limitations, decide where her own convictions lie, and make the tumultuous leap to independence. . .

Infused with the intensity of a changing time, here is a story of hope, heartbreak, and the love and courage that can transform us--from child to adult, from wounded to indomitable
Firstly, I love the cover of this novel. It really gives me a sense of peace and tranquility. It also looks vintage because of the more sepia tones of the cover image which I really love.

I really love stories that are loosely based on the Civil Rights movement and The Dry Grass of August doesn't disappoint. It's told from the perspective of Jubie, a young white girl who's life isn't particularly easy. Her dad is not a very good guy, yet despite the whippings he regularly gives her, Jubie still looks up to him... at least at first. The family, minus Jubie's dad, get on the road to head down to Florida to see other members of the family. It's there that Jubie starts to witness the discrimination against their African-American maid, Mary. However, it's not until they end up in a small Southern town that they really start to run into trouble. It is this trouble that teaches Jubie a lot about the way of the world in 1950 America.

I don't want to ruin the story for you so I can't say too much but I will say this book is an emotional roller coaster. At it's core, it explores the relationship between a white girl and her black maid, but there is so much more to it than that. There are a lot of twists and turns you really won't see coming, and it seems every member of the family is keeping more than a few secrets.

I really liked the characters - I felt they were well developed and seemed very realistic. Each character added something significant to the story and built up the layers both of the family dynamic within Jubie's family, and to the state of 1950's American society. Throughout the book you are really able to get inside Jubie's head and relate to her and what she was going through at different stages of the story. Right on the brink of adolescence, Jubie has to deal with more than growing up - she has to deal with loss, betrayal and injustice in the worst way possible.

I was a little disappointed in the ending. I feel it almost just...ended without having a solid 'happily ever after'. I also felt a little like the sub-story of Jubie's dad and uncle seemed a little disconnected from the main story. It took a long time to understand how it fit in with everything else that was going on. Plus a little more development on Jubie's dad could have been nice. However, the pluses of this book, and the incredible realistic story outweighs any negatives.

Overall it's an excellent book about race relations in the 1950s. I would say it's almost The Secret Life of Bees meets The Help. It's well written, the story is great, and despite the pace being slightly slower than other stories I've read lately, I think that works. In fact I think it adds something to the story. I would definitely recommend it. I give The Dry Grass of August 5 stars.


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