219 of 224 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2011
I try to read as many first novels as possible. I believe debut writers have a story in their heart-and they need to put on paper. I was not disappointed. I am stingy with my "five star" reviews, I gladly give "The Dry Leaves of August" five stars. Anna Jean Mayhew tells this story of family life in the '50 with just the right pace. This is NOT just another story about race relations in the south. It is a beautiful story about a middle class southern family and the intelligent lovely woman who cooked,cleaned and took care of their four children. The personalities of the children, parents and extended family become real. It's as though you crawl into their brains. Some of the characters you like and others you don't like. The story unwinds slowly but the end comes fast--- maybe a little too fast? I haven't decided yet! I hope there is a second novel in the near future.
92 of 97 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2011
An authentic, truly beautiful, page-turner of a story.
Jubie's is like a lot of white families in the segregated South of the times. Her beloved maid cares for them, cooks for them, even travels with them. Long days at the pool, a well-run house, a beach vacation--her summer is safe. But her father's shadow life and her mother's distance confound thirteen-year-old Jubie Watts. As the young teen watches her world unravel, the black woman who holds the family together becomes a much-loved confidant.
The young narrator's voice is perfect, not so innocent that the events around her are missed. But so much of what happened in that part of the country (my home, FYI) was just plain hard to figure out for anyone. What at first glance might seem like another "Help" knock-off, is far from it. A lot happens to this family, in deep denial that anything is wrong. A summer trip to the beach has many layers, the characters are so real, the story, ultimately, heartbreaking. You'll want to read this more than once.
Although some of the events are certainly sensational and remarkable, they are never sensationalized. Just a terrifically told story about race, family, first love and so much more, set in troubling times.
73 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2011
The Dry Grass of August tells the deceptively simple story of Jubie, a privileged white Southern teen whose eyes are beginning to open to the reality of 1950s racism. Although parallels might be drawn between this novel and, say, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Dry Grass of August offers broader and deeper examinations of class differences and family dynamics, enriching the story considerably. It is at once a story of segregation, a chronicle of a family's disintegration, and a record of the coming of age of Jubie, her mother, and the country as a whole. Brava.
The author has completely captured the language of the time and created a sense of place so realistic that one almost feels compelled to swat at the mosquitoes that surely must be nearby.
To me, a good book is one I can reread multiple times and discover something new each time. By this measure, the Dry Grass of August is a very good book indeed.
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Some people feel black people have no rights. That pretty much sums up the feelings of many white citizens of the southern states in 1954. In The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew, readers are taken back to a time and place in our country when African Americans had little control over their lives and were considered second-class citizens.
Jubie Watts is a 13 year-old girl who lives a comfortable life in Charlotte, North Carolina but her angst at being tall and gangly, standing in her sisters' shadow, and worrying about her parents' strained marriage is a burden from which she wants to escape. The light in Jubie's life is the steadfast relationship she has with the family maid, Mary Luther, a black woman who is full of wisdom and encouragement. Hovering on the horizon is the Brown vs. Board of Education decision which is supposed to end school segregation, bringing with it even more racial tension than usual. In the midst of all of this, Jubie, her mother, older sister, younger sister, little brother and Mary embark on a road trip to Florida to visit her mother's brother. Along the way, when stopping for sleeping accommodations, special arrangements have to be made for Mary; usually out in the back on a cot with an out-house for her facilities. But that is the way it is and everyone plays their role.
While on vacation at the beach near her uncle's home, Jubie swims in the alluring waters of the Pensacola ocean, attends a carnival, meets a new friend in Leesum, a black boy of 15, and makes a discovery that explains her parents' estrangement. Later, traveling through rural areas and small towns in Georgia on the way to the family's next stop on their trip, Pawley's Island, there is an accident which delays their trip and they stay over in Claxton for a few days. Estelle, Jubie's older sister, in her religious fervor, drags Jubie and Mary to a black tent revival and that is when things go so very wrong. Thus, Jubie's life is turned upside down that long hot summer by a series of tragic events; her innocence lost forever.
This book satisfied not only my hunger for good southern literature-- family dynamics, racial theme, and well-sketched settings and characters against a backdrop of historical events; but it was a southern story by a white author writing about blacks that I could embrace. My first reaction when I learned that there was a black maid was to reject it, having been burned by the portrayal of maids in the best-selling book, The Help. However, this was a much more layered storyline and African Americans are portrayed as more three-dimensional and realistic. Moving, compelling, often poignant, this book is recommended for those who like southern literature and good storytelling.
APOOO Literary Book Reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
A study on family dysfunction and racism in the 1950s south and a coming of age story, this tale is narrated in the voice of thirteen-year-old Jubie Watts. What reads like young adult fiction is tainted with an ugly brutality that might require discussion with a teen. The format is much-traveled, a young girl facing the harsh realities of the world she lives in, Jubie Watts no exception, her security unraveling with the increased arguments between Paula and William Watts, William's womanizing and drinking impacting his family destructively. The Watts are a traditional family of the era, four children, non-working mother, a "girl" to help with children and chores. Though Mary Luther, the family's "colored girl", is essential to a functioning household, she remains invisible because of the color of her skin. For Jubie, Mary is the rock on which everything rests, Paula too preoccupied to deal with the concerns of a precocious teenager.
A family driving vacation from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Pensacola, Florida is set against the seminal Supreme Court desegregation decision of Brown v. The Board of Education, Paula and her children packed into the family car, Mary in the back seat. The harsh words exchanged by her parents are soon forgotten as Jubie and her siblings experience the usual excitement and discomforts of the trip, but a tragedy inevitably occurs, completely unmooring Jubie from everything she has believed. The novel runs on two tracks, Jubie's awareness of a crumbling family dynamic and the entrenched racism of the 50s south, an array of signs posting nighttime curfews for "coloreds" (or the more derogatory term), strict enforcement of segregation in public transportation and in motels and the indomitable spirit of people who have endured long and suffered much.
Mary is an exceptional woman. It is unfortunate that only Jubie fully realizes her value. When ignorance and brutality strike one night in Florida, the trauma reverberates through the family, but not all are willing to pay homage to Mary's efforts on their behalf over the years. While Jubie's grief-stricken reaction is the crux of the novel, the fact is that many young girls of this era are oblivious to the racism that thrives. For all the understanding Jubie embraces, the life of this woman is just too much too pay, fodder for another outrageous incident among too many. Good for Mahew for telling this story, but Jubie's pain pales in comparison to the injustices inflicted. Shame on us that such awakenings are the exception. Luan Gaines/2011.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2011
The Watts family of Charlotte, North Carolina, is embarking on their first family trip without their father as they head south to visit Mrs. Watts's brother in Florida one summer. It doesn't take long for young Jubie to see the difference in the treatment of whites and blacks. Coming along with Jubie, her mother, older sister Stell, younger sister Puddin and baby brother Davie is Mary, their hardworking and loving family maid.
All along the way, the trip is punctuated by rules and regulations they must follow. Mary can't stay in the hotel with them; instead, she must check into a black hotel down the block. She can't use the restroom in the restaurant where they stop for lunch; instead, she has to go to the outhouse in the back field. And in one town it's glaringly obvious, when the first thing they come across is a sign that tells them "NEGROES --- Observe Curfew! WHITES ONLY after sundown!" Jubie had never realized the vast differences before. To her and her siblings, Mary was part of their family. It seemed odd that so many restrictions apply to her, just because of her skin color.
After a brief stopover at their uncle's in Pensacola, a car accident in a small backwoods Georgia town puts a kink in their plans, and they must stay in a local motel until their car is repaired. Jubie may be only 13, but she's old enough to know that there is more to their family vacation than meets the eye. Her young cousin lets slip with a comment about her mother having an affair with their father, and she realizes just why Daddy didn't come with them this time. Her mother is holing up, trying to decide her next move. Along with the family drama, a violent incident rocks all of them to their core, and Jubie learns a hard lesson about the way of the world, circa 1954 in the South.
Anna Jean Mayhew's debut novel vividly demonstrates a particular time in American history through the prism of a young girl's coming of age. Jubie may not fully grasp all the events swirling around her and her family, but she keenly feels the injustice of it all. Her tween alienation from her conservative parents and her close relationship with Mary show a different vantage point to race relations at that time. Mary offers love and comfort when her preoccupied parents cannot. Why should she be treated any differently?
The angst and ennui of a young girl on the brink of her teenage years recall classics like Carson McCullers's THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING; fans of that powerful novel of the South, along with THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES and THE HELP, will surely embrace this heartfelt novel. And the violent and heartbreaking resolution will leave readers breathless and members of book groups heatedly conversing into the wee hours.
--- Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2011
August, 1954, saw the Watts family of Charlotte, NC off on a trip to the beach with Mama driving, the four children along and Mary, the black maid along to help. This was the first time they had taken a trip without the father. They were first going to see Mama's brother, Uncle Taylor in Pensacola, FL.
The book is narrated by Jubie, one of the daughters who holds Mary very close to her heart and who loves Mary very much. Mary is a nurturer, and in some ways is a better mother to these children than their own mother is. This beautifully written novel of the days of segregation is thought-provoking and quite memorable. The racism that existed in the time period when this book takes place was such that blacks had special curfews and weren't allowed to stay in motel rooms or use the same bathrooms as whites. Jubie's parents seemed to accept some of it as the way it was, but Jubie didn't. Her voice was the whisper that would sound a decade later and then turn into a shout.
A terrible tragedy occurs that will rock the very foundations of the Watts family, but will open Mama's eyes more, and lead Jubie to a very mature and independent decision that she could be proud of.
I really loved this book, and I always enjoy first books by new authors. Just because it's a first book doesn't mean it isn't going to be good, and this one proves it. Much research went into the writing of The Dry Grass of August. I highly recommend it.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2011
The Dry Grass of August
by Anna Jean Mayhew
The Dry Grass of August is a deeply felt and powerful debut novel. It is so beautifully written that it could easily have truly happened. Anna Jean Mayhew tells more than a simple story of the South. She takes us back to the South in 1954. She tells of a time of segregation, intolerance and things unspoken.
We see these issues through the eyes, and with the heart of 13 year old Jubie, our narrator. Reaching adolescence as her family is falling apart, Jubie is forced to come to terms with things that will change everything she thought she knew about her family and the world in general.
Anna Jean Mayhew has written an important book in beautiful prose. I savoured every page. Her characters are believable and memorable. I was moved to tears by the reality of this story and the beauty in which it was told. I am humbled by this beautiful story and the author herself.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2012
The South in the 1950s is difficult to write about, because of the conflicting -- and conflicted -- emotions barely hidden by society. Although desegregation was the law, the South had its own ways, and segregation was deeply entrenched.
Jubie, a white girl in North Carolina, lives with her family and black maid in the midst of these conflicts, but they don't touch her life until a family trip to Florida takes them into some fiercely segregated areas.
It is too bad that neither the title nor the cover of this book gives you any clue to the power of the story inside. The strength of the story, to me, is that our children will dissolve segregation by refusing to see it. In ways reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, Jubie, like Scout, sees people for who they are, not what color they are.
In several ways, a stronger novel than The Help. Highly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2011
Anna Jean Mayhew perfectly captured the essence of Segregation-era southern cities in her brilliant first novel, The Dry Grass of August. I first met the author in 1994, when this novel was near its inception. I knew "AJ" was working on some fiction and that she was involved in a writers group, so when I read a review of "Dry Grass" in a national publication, I knew I had to read it for myself.
When it arrived, I first read the thank-you's and Q & A to get a better understanding of my friend's process. I then started to read Chapter One. Let me tell you now, reading this book was a struggle -- only because I kept trying to read it slowly so I could savor every page. I didn't want to put it down! At first I forced myself to read only a chapter or two at a time, but by the time I was halfway through the book, I was a goner. I was so engrossed in each of the characters, especially the main character "Jubie," that I simply had to find out what happened next.
Ms. Mayhew perfectly strikes the right combination of joy, pathos, anger, and tragedy in "Dry Grass." The characters are completely believable, and the speech dialects are spot-on. This is coming from a fellow North Carolinian who is separated from the author by a generation, but who also notes that the South is probably the most cautious region of this country when it comes to change. Reading "Dry Grass" reminded me of my own childhood growing up in the semi-rural hills of Western North Carolina.
The sensitive nature of the subject matter is deftly handled by imbuing the main character (a thirteen-year-old girl) with a naive sense of wonder at the world around her, but tempering it with a strong sense of social justice. I mean, what's not to like about Jubie? While all of the characters each exhibit some sort of personal flaws (some more than others), Jubie's sense of right vs. wrong is what carries her (and us) through. Her exasperation at being the second daughter coupled with the first stirrings of sexual desire are totally believable as juxtaposed with the framework of the 1950's south. Add servant Mary as the mentor-savior-peacekeeper-sage, and you've got quite a combination for all of the characters to bounce off of.
This book should be a must-read, especially for junior high/high school classes, and I will be suggesting it to several "book circle" friends here in California. AJ, I can't wait for the next one (please don't make us wait quite so long this time)!