Summary and book reviews of The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew

The Dry Grass of August

by Anna Jean Mayhew

The Dry Grass of August
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2011, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2011, 352 pages

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Book Summary

In this beautifully written debut, Anna Jean Mayhew offers a riveting depiction of Southern life in the throes of segregation and 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.

Infused with the intensity of a changing time, here is a story of hope, heartbreak, and the love and courage that can transform us from child to adult, wounded to indomitable.

Paperback original.

Excerpt
The Dry Grass of August

In August of 1954, we took our first trip without Daddy, and Stell got to use the driver's license she'd had such a fit about. It was just a little card saying she was Estelle Annette Watts, that she was white, with hazel eyes and brown hair. But her having a license made that trip different from any others, because if she hadn't had it, we never would have been stuck in Sally's Motel Park in Claxton, Georgia, where we went to buy fruitcakes and had a wreck instead. And Mary would still be with us.

Stell and I carried the last of the suitcases to the driveway. The sky was a wide far blue above the willow oaks that line Queens Road West, with no promise of rain to break the heat. I put Mary's flowered cloth bag in the trunk and Daddy took it out. "Always start with the biggest piece." He picked up Mama's Pullman and grunted. "She packed like she's never coming back." He hefted it into the trunk. "Okay, girls, what's ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  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?...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about The Dry Grass of August. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Anna Jean Mayhew Answers Questions About The Dry Grass of August
Hi, Dave, I've had a positive response from the majority of readers, especially Southerners. The book was an Okra Pick from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance; I've been invited to speak at the Southern Voices conference in February, ... - Carolina

Do you agree or disagree with Paula's decision to stay with Bill as long as she does?
I think the comments by many of you are right on -- that divorce in the South in the 50's was not something that was done lightly. Plus the fact that the character Paula was not a strong person - dave s

Do you think Jubie's parents are racist?
I think probably both Bill and Paula were raised as products of their environment where whites thought themselves to be completely superior to blacks. I think as Paula may have had more personal interactions with Mary and others, she could see the ... - sylviaj

Do you think Paula makes the right decision to take Mary on the trip?
I really agree with the gist of most of the responses to this question. I don't think Paula thought about the inherent dangers of such a trip. Even when her sister-in-law mentioned that the Klan had become active (on page 3, I think), Paula pooh-... - Carolina

Do you think Stell is partially responsible for Mary's death?
I do think that Stell is partially responsible but at 16 I don't believe that she understood the possible remifications of their actions. After all, she had Paula as her role model! Had Paula been more sensitive or less selfish, Mary wouldn't have ... - Terry R

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Woman's World

A must-read for fans of The Help.

Publishers Weekly

Mayhew keeps the story taut, thoughtful, and complex, elevating it from the throng of coming-of-age books.

Booklist

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.

Author Blurb Karen White, New York Times bestselling author
A beautiful book that fans of The Help will enjoy.

Author Blurb Angela Davis-Gardner, author of Butterfly's Child
A beautifully written and important novel. Set in the 1950s South, it deals with race relations in an original, powerful way. It's also a great story about complicated family relationships, told with humor, delicacy, and penetrating insight. I wish I had written this book.

Author Blurb Lee Smith, author of Last Girls and Fair and Tender Ladies
Written with unusual charm, wonderful dialogue, and a deeply felt sense of time and place, The Dry Grass of August is a book for adults and young people both a beautifully written literary novel that is a real page-turner, I have to add. Fast, suspenseful, and meaningful. I read this book straight through.

Reader Reviews

Darlene Mour

The Dry Grass of August
This book is very relevant to my growing up in the 50's. Most of our families could not afford maids or servants, but living in a town where negros had to be off the streets at night . Anna Mayhew artfully mades the characters come alive. Jubie's ...   Read More

Karenr

A gem!
Other readers compared this to the Help so I crossed my fingers that it could meet my expectations as I dove into reading it. It absolutely did and was engaging through the last page. I felt I was right there along side and sharing the emotions of ...   Read More

Beth

A must read
I knew within 5 or 6 pages that I was going to love this book. If I had the time, I would have read it non-stop. For those who loved The Help, the subject matter is similar, race relations and the relationships that were formed between the characters...   Read More

Rebecca R

Some People May Like It
I found myself skimming this book in a lot of places. In fact, I was really torn about the difference between a 3 and a 4 for a rating. For me, it was a clear cut 3, and yet I feel it could appeal to a large segment of other women. Something about ...   Read More

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