Wednesday, June 8, 2011

REVIEW: The Dry Grass of August, by Anna Jean Mayhew

The Dry Grass of August, by Anna Jean Mayhew. Published 2011 by Kensington Books. Fiction.

The Dry Grass of August is a lovely and heartfelt story about segregation and racial injustice in the South of 1954. Young Jubie Watts is a young daughter of a troubled family; one summer, her mother takes her and her other children from their home in North Carolina deeper south to Florida to stay with relatives. They bring their maid, Mary Luther, an African-American woman who has worked for the family for many years. One night, after Mary takes the girls to a religious meeting, a tragedy befalls the Watts and Luther families both, and Jubie is left to sort out the consequences on her own.

I will admit that I don't read a lot of fiction that deals with racial issues in the United States; when I have, the books often strike me as didactic and heavy-handed, which is something I don't like in fiction. I like books that present the world as a complex place, where life lessons are difficult to wrestle with and people are not reduced to stereotypes, even good ones. I was happy to find that The Dry Grass of August is such a book. What happens to Mary is unambiguously wrong, but it's the responses of those around her and the family that make for thought-provoking reading and probably interesting discussion, too.

I enjoyed this book a lot. I like Mayhew's writing style, clear and lyrical at the same time, and I like the rich characters she creates, especially of course young Jubie but I thought her mother was also a fascinating character. I like the tender friendship between Jubie and Leesum, a member of Mary's "church family," from which Jubie learns a bittersweet lesson. Mayhew wraps Jubie's coming of age story into the overall narrative alongside her father's troubles and the family's difficult future. I think Dry Grass would be a great choice for book clubs as well. A great book for summer, I'm sure that lots of readers will enjoy and appreciate Mayhew's satisfying and graceful novel.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.