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.
[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.
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
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