Dry Grass of August (Review)


The Dry Grass of August
Anna Jean Mayhew, 2011
352 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
August 2011

Inevitable comparisons are already being made of this recent debut novel to The Help, The Secret Life of Bees and even To Kill a Mockingbird—comparisons well deserved.

Mayhew has given us a powerful story of lost innocence in the face of racial injustice—a story that comes to us through the voice of 13-year-old Jubie Watts, a whilte girl from Charlotte, North Carolina.

It's August, 1954, only two-and-a-half months after the US Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that separate is not equal. As Jubie and her family head into the deep South for vacation, Jubie notices signs declaring, "Segregation ain't broke. Don't fix it." With the family is Mary Luther, their black maid. Mary is the emotional center of the family—especially so for Jubie, whose bond with Mary runs deep.

The car trip, of course, is the journey from childhood to adulthood. The farther south the family travels, Jubie comes to understand both her family's own dysfunction and the degrading treatment handed out to Mary. It's an awakening. When tragedy strikes, Jubie rebels against her family, her father in particular, making a decision that thrusts her squarely on the path toward maturity.

The book's title alludes to a passage in Isaiah warning against the ravages of anger, even righteous anger, and vengeance:

Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord....

Jubie's awakening mirrors society's. Nearly 60 years have passed since the era of this novel; there is now an African-American in the Oval Office. It would be a wonderful discussion to talk about progress, or lack of progrress, in the nation's understanding of prejudice.

See our Reading Guide for The Dry Grass of August.

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