Tallgrass (Dallas)

Book Reviews
An ugly murder is central to this compelling historical, but the focus is on one appealing family, the Strouds, in the backwater town of Ellis, Colo. Soon after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government rounded up all the Japanese residents of the West Coast and shipped them off to "internment camps" for the duration of the war. One of the camps is Tallgrass, based on an actual Colorado camp, as Dallas (The Chili Queen) explains in her acknowledgments. The major discomforts and petty indignities these (mostly) American citizens had to endure are viewed through the clear eyes of a young girl who lives on a nearby farm, Rennie Stroud. Rennie's obvious love of family slowly extends itself to the Japanese house and field helpers the Strouds receive permission to hire. The final surprise is the who and why of the murder itself. Dallas's terrific characters, unerring ear for regional dialects and ability to evoke the sights and sounds of the 1940s make this a special treat.
Publishers Weekly


Rennie Stroud looks back to 1942, when she was 13, to tell a powerful coming-of-age story. That year, the U.S. government opened a Japanese internment camp outside Ellis, CO, less than a mile from where Rennie and her family farmed sugar beets. Rennie observes the prejudice of some of the townspeople as well as her parents' strong moral code and their entanglement in the emotions of the time. Her father, Loyal, not only shows open support for the Japanese, whom he views as Americans, but offers to hire them to work on the farm. When a young girl is murdered, suspicion naturally turns to the camp, and the town is divided by fear. Dallas's strong, provocative novel is a moving examination of prejudice and fear that addresses issues of community discord, abuse, and rape. Her phrasing and language bring the 1940s to life, and she has created characters that will linger with the reader. As in her previous work, The Persian Pickle Club, Dallas emphasizes the need for women to form strong networks in order to survive emotionally. Highly recommended for book clubs and public libraries.
Lesa M. Holstine - Library Journal


(Adult/High School) Dallas has made a major contribution to a growing body of literature about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Based on the one camp in Colorado (named Amache, and renamed Tallgrass by the author), the story focuses on the impact it had on the local farmers and townspeople. It is told from the viewpoint of Rennie Stroud, 13, and poignantly portrays the emotional turmoil of both the internees and local residents. Suspicion, fear, anger, hatred, love, tenderness, pride, regret: Rennie adapts and readapts to all of these as her predictable life vanishes behind the reality of war, murder, and injustice. After a young local girl is killed, most of the town looks in one direction for the murderer. Rennie, blessed with wise and just parents, manages to rise above the prevailing rush to judgment. Part mystery, part historical fiction, part coming-of-age story, Tallgrass has all the elements of a tale well told: complex characters, intriguing plot, atmospheric detail, pathos, humor, and memorable turns of phrase. But most of all, the book offers a fresh look at a theme that can never be ignored: the interplay of good and evil within society and within people. —Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA
School Library Journal


(Starred review.) Dallas (New Mercies, 2005) based Tallgrass on Amache, a real-life World War II internment camp near Granada, Colorado. Here she renders a dramatic (and surprisingly droll) coming-of-age tale in which ignorance breeds malice, with brutal results. —Allison Block
Booklist


A Colorado beet farmer and his family are sorely tried by events of WWII. When the U.S. government establishes a Japanese-American relocation camp in Ellis, Colo., in 1942, Loyal Stroud takes a view apart from most other townsfolk. Having "the enemy in their midst" riles the locals, but Loyal believes the whole thing is plain wrong. Why not round up all the German-Americans, too, while they're at it? Aside from civic issues, Loyal has to figure out how to harvest his beets, what with Buddy, his son, enlisted, along with his farm hands. Against prevailing sentiment, Loyal hires three young men from the camp. And although Rennie, 14, the last child home, worries about her father's decision, she and her mother, Mary, come to love the boys, who are from California farm country. And when Mary's heart ailment finally gets bad enough for her to take the rest cure the doctor advised, the Strouds hire Daisy, the sister of one of the boys. Daisy works hard and speaks in a Hollywood tabloid lingo that charms the whole family. Their domestic harmony is rocked by news that Buddy is missing in action and-shockingly-that Rennie's school friend Sally is found raped and murdered. Everyone except the Strouds and the sheriff believes "the Japs" did it, and the tension in town builds to the point of near-anarchy, when the local bigots get liquored up and try to take the law into their own hands. Throughout all this drama, as in most of Dallas's work (Alice's Tulips, 2000, etc.), a community of quilters, known here as the Jolly Stitchers, come and go, bringing cakes, covered casseroles and gossip to the sick and grieving. The parallels of a country at war then and now give this story a layer of poignancy, but otherwise, as is obvious from the start, the good guys win and the bad guys lose, and Buddy comes marching home. A well-spun but familiar tale.
Kirkus Reviews

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