Dry Grass of August (Mayhew)

The Dry Grass of August
Anna Jean Mayhew, 2011
Kensington Publishing
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780758254092


Summary
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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Anna Jean (A.J.) Mayhew, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, has never lived outside the state, although she often travels to Europe with her Swiss-born husband.

Much of A.J.’s work reflects her vivid memories of growing up in the segregated South. A.J. has been a member of the same writing group since 1987, is a writer-in-residence at The Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, and is a former member of the Board of Trustees of the North Carolina Writers' Network. The Dry Grass of August is her first novel. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
A girl comes of age in the tumultuous 1950s South in Mayhew's strong debut. When 13-year-old Jubie Watts goes on a Florida vacation with her family in 1954, Mary, the family's black maid who's closer to Jubie than her own mother, comes along, and though the family lives in North Carolina, Jubie notices the changing way Mary's received the further south they travel. After a tragedy befalls the family, Jubie's eyes are opened to the harsh realities of racism and the importance for standing up for one's beliefs—though this does little to help her when her father's failures in business and marriage lead to the family falling apart. In Jubie, Mayhew gives readers a compelling and insightful protagonist, balancing Jubie's adolescence with a racially charged plot and other developments that are beyond her years. Despite a crush of perhaps unwarranted late-book suffering, Mayhew keeps the story taut, thoughtful, and complex, elevating it from the throng of coming-of-age books.
Publishers Weekly


[O]nce you’ve experienced The Dry Grass of August, you’ll swiftly see that Anna Jean Mayhew’s debut novel deserves all the early praise it’s getting.
Bookpage


Through immediate first-person narration, this first novel gets the prejudice and cruelty in daily life exactly right. We feel the horrible normality of not regarding anyone black as a person ("all coloreds look alike"), and we see where blatant racism leads. Because the novel is totally true to Jubie's point of view, it generates gripping drama as we watch her reach beyond authority to question law and order. —Hazel Rochman
Booklist



Discussion Questions
1. What do you think about Paula’s decision to take Mary on the trip, given the antipathy in the deep south post Brown v. Board?

2. Why does Puddin so often try to hide or run away? What does her behavior say about the family?

3. Why didn’t Paula try to stop Bill from beating Jubie?

4. Is Uncle Taylor a racist?

5. Why did the clown at Joyland by the Sea give Jubie a rose?

6. If you’d been Paula (or Bill) what would you have done when Cordelia failed to appear for dinner? How could they have handled that differently?

7. Why does Paula take Bill back after his affair with her brother’s wife?

8. Did Bill and Paula act responsibly as parents when they allowed Jubie and Stell to go with Mary to the Daddy Grace parade in Charlotte? The tent meeting in Claxton?

9. Why didn’t Paula punish Jubie for stealing the Packard to go to Mary’s Funeral?

10. What drove Stamos to suicide?

11. Which major character changes the most? The least?

12. Which character in the book did you identify with the most? The least?

13. If you could interview Jubie, what would you ask her? What about Mary? Paula? Bill? Stell?

14. If Bill died at the end of the book, what would his obituary say if Paula wrote it? If Stell wrote it? If Jubie wrote it?

15. Given that there’s little hope for Jubie and Leesum to be friends in 1954, what would it be like for them if they met again today?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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