Monday, April 18, 2011

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew

At age 71, The Dry Grass of August is Anna Jean Mayhew's first novel. Before choosing this book I read a few reviews that compared it to Kathryn Stockett's The Help and Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees. There are similarities in that The Dry Grass of August takes place in the south in the 1950's and deals with race relations between blacks and whites. Also the main character is a young girl who, out of love for a black woman, is forced to grow up quickly and make life altering decisions. Despite the similarities, The Dry Grass of August is a story that stands on its own.

In the summer of 1954 thirteen year old June Bennet Watts (Jubie) leaves her home in Charlotte, North Carolina to go on a family vacation to Florida. Packed into the family car is Jubie, her mother, two sisters, baby brother and the family maid, Mary Luther. Mary has been taking care of of Jubie and her siblings for as long as she can remember, compensating for Jubie's father's drunken rages and her mothers benign neglect. Mary has been Jubie's surrogate mother, father, best friend and confidant. As the family makes its way to Florida, Jubie notes the racial tensions that grow more apparent as they further south. After a tragic event changes the course of the vacation, Jubie must decide where her loyalties lie and take a leap into independence. Jubie narrates the story mixing in her present with past events to illustrate the dynamics of her family and the importance of Mary in her life.

The Dry Grass of August is a beautifully written coming-of-age story in the true sense of the term. The events of that fateful family vacation and what occurs before all lead up to Jubie moving from being a child into adulthood. At the end of the book there is a question and answer session with Ms. Mayhew. In it she says that it took her 18 years to finish this novel and she drew from her own life experiences growing up in North Carolina. In 1957 Ms. Mayhew was 17 years old, living in Charlotte and working as a life guard. By this time the Charlotte bus system had removed the "color line". Ms. Mayhew was riding the bus home one day when a black woman sat down beside her. Even with her blond hair and blue eyes, Ms. Mayhew observed that with her summer tan her skin was darker than the woman sitting next to her. These were the lasting impressions Ms. Mayhew used as inspiration for her novel. I certainly hope that we do not have to wait another 18 years for Ms. Mayhew's next novel.

Amy~ Adult Services

No comments:

Post a Comment