Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Review: The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
Source: Personal Copy
The Dry Grass of August is a heartfelt story about segregation and racial injustices in the South during the 1950’s. A thirteen-year-old June “Jubie” Watts leaves Charlotte, North Carolina with her mother, three siblings and black maid for a family vacation in Florida. While on their road trip, their maid Mary is not allowed in certain restaurants, hotel accommodations become more difficult, despite Jubie’s mother trying to keep Mary with the family. In many ways Jubie’s family is ahead of the times, and very accepting of Mary. They allow her to use their toilet, shower and try to include her as much as possible. She is more than just the help, she’s a member of the family. For as long as Jubie can remember, Mary has always been there. She’s always been around for the cooking and cleaning, and to run interference when her father’s rage has peaked. On their trip South, they drive though some of the the most violent pro-segregation states. As Jubie notices the segregation signs, and anti-equality slogans, she never would have guessed how unfair life could be. The family learns first-hand that they’re in the minority on their equal treatment of their maid. On their way back from Florida, the family has a minor car accident with consequences far greater than could be expected. No one could have predicted the shocking conclusion of their vacation, the family is forever changed and heartbroken.
The Dry Grass of August is a novel rich in atmosphere, and well developed characters. Mayhew carefully researched, and weaved an emotional, heartbreaking and powerful read. Readers are taken back to a time and place when African Americans were considered second-class citizens. This is not just another book about segregation, this novel stands on its own and readers will appreciate the original characters and plot. As Jubie’s world begins to unravel, she must confront her parents, risk the wrath of her father and standup for her own convictions. While segregation is a key component of this novel, Jubie’s parents marriage is strained, and this has a great impact on her. Her father’s alcoholism has Jubie relived to be spending time away from him.
Jubie narrates the story, alternating chapters with present-day and defining moments in her childhood. The alternating chapters really gives insight into Jubie’s world. She’s thirteen years old, and still very innocent. Although, not so innocent that she is not aware of her surroundings. Mayhew offers a broader and deeper examination of family dynamics, and class differences during this time in history.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked this one up. I had read reviews comparing it to “The Help” and honestly, they’re two very different, equally great, works of fiction. They both deal with segregation, but very different ways. I highly recommend this one!