The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew — Anna Jean Mayhew draws from her Charlotte roots and builds on the long tradition of North Carolina storytelling in this stunning coming-of-age debut. In August 1954, just after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, 13-year-old Jubie Watts of Charlotte and her fractured, puzzling family take a vacation for the first time without Jubie’s violent, alcoholic father. On the trip are Jubie’s chain-smoking mother (who’s quicker to criticize wrinkled drapes than give her own children a hug), her older born-again sister, two younger siblings, and their black maid Mary (the nurturer to the family). Just as Jubie notices the changes happening to her own body, like needing a tin of deodorant powder from her Meemaw while her other sisters receive charm bracelets and hair ribbons, she becomes aware of the increasing racism toward Mary as they head deeper and deeper south. In alternating chapters sprinkled with Coke bottles, Marilyn Monroe, and other pop-culture references, strong-willed Jubie also looks back at recently revealed family secrets – her father’s roving eyes, her mother’s missing teeth, shortcuts in the family business – and begins to understand how they are slowly tearing the family apart. Perhaps the only person who might understand her feelings and longings is Leesum Fields, a 15-year-old black boy rescued by Mary and her church family. But Jubie knows that their newly formed friendship can put them in danger. Mayhew’s keen ear for dialect, complex characters, and sensitive descriptions of this turbulent time in American history fuel the taut story line. With all the tension, readers nervously wait for the spark to ignite the powder keg of hatred and cruelty. When tragedy does strike, they turn again to Jubie for healing and renewed hope.
Angela Leeper, Our State – North Carolina, August 2011, p. 22.
Lost innocence — When a new novel gets compared to some of the biggest hits of the last 10 years like The Help and The Secret Life of Bees, its author has some awfully big shoes to fill. Throw in comparisons to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and the stakes are raised so high that readers may be skeptical that any book could be so good. Reading is believing, however, and once 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. — The Dry Grass of August tells the story of Jubie Watts, who gains wisdom beyond her 13 years of life during the summer of 1954. Along with their colored maid Mary, the Watts family takes a road trip down to Florida, looking for the chance to escape from the pressures of day-to-day life in North Carolina. Alas, as the trip progresses, it gets harder to ignore the color of Mary’s skin. In the wake of a violent and hateful crime, Jubie is exposed to injustice and intolerance of which she had been blissfully unaware, and hairline cracks in the Watts family shatter open, bringing shameful secrets to light. For Jubie, nothing will ever be easy again, and she learns that growing up means seeing the world beyond basic black and white. — If the best authors are the ones who write what they know, then Mayhew clearly used her own experiences to great advantage. A lifelong native of North Carolina, Mayhew spent her girlhood in Charlotte during the 1950s and witnessed firsthand the upheaval and conflict of racial segregation and integration. Jubie’s story thrums with a provocative authenticity, and even the most stolid reader is sure to respond to this heartbreaking tale of lost innocence. Although revisiting such a fraught yet recent moment in U.S. history produces moments of discomfort and pain, the power, bravery and beauty of Mayhew’s narrative is beyond contestation and well-deserving of a wide readership.
Stephenie Harrison, BookPage Discover your next great book
The Dry Grass of August
Anna Jean Mayhew, Kensington, Fiction, ISBN 978-0-7582-5409-2
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.
Bronwyn Miller, Bookreporter.com
The Dry Grass of August
Anna Jean Mayhew, Kensington, $15 trade paper (294p) ISBN 978-0-7582-5409-2
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. (Apr.)
The Dry Grass of August
Mayhew, Anna Jean (Author)
Apr 2011. 294 p. Kensington, paperback, $15.00. (9780758254092).
Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the early 1950s, 13-year-old Jubie feels closest to her white family’s live-in black maid, Mary Luther, who, though everyone calls her “the girl,” raised Jubie. Daddy supports segregation, and he sleeps around. Mommy paints her toenails and tries not to see too much. Then, when the family drives farther south on vacation, the Whites Only signs are everywhere (“Separate but equal is good”), and it’s always hard to find Mary a place to sleep, eat, and use the bathroom. Then the vacation turns to tragedy. 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, Booklist
The Dry Grass of August is a perfectly realized novel, a coming-of-age story set during the summer of 1954, a summer in which thirteen-year-old Jubie takes a family beach trip that will change her life forever. Before the summer is over, Jubie has come face to face with racism, death, infidelity, and the breakup of her family. 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.
Lee Smith, author of Fair and Tender Ladies, The Last Girls, On Agate Hill, and Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger, et al.
The Dry Grass of August is 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.
Angela Davis-Gardner, author of Felicity, Forms of Shelter, Plum Wine, and the forthcoming novel, Butterfly’s Child.
Deeply felt, lasting relationships formed in the mid-20th century South between white families and the African-American women who took care of them. In The Dry Grass of August, Mayhew explores the love and conflicting loyalties in one such extended family, adult and child, black and white. She does so with honesty and sympathy, intimate knowledge and valuable perspective, as well as beautiful writing. This is an important story about the Southern experience and the women who helped to form the American generation now at the peak of its powers.
Peggy Payne, author of Revelation, Sister India, The Healing Power of Doing Good, and Doncaster: A Legacy of Personal Style.
I received an advance copy of The Dry Grass of August in the mail Friday. I started it Friday night and finished it late Saturday. Oh my goodness! I could not put it down. Being a child of the 50's I could identify with the children so much it was uncanny! We did not have a "girl" but we had a grandmother that lived with us and did most of the work and child rearing, plus taking up for us. Sometimes it seemed the author had access to our life, the dad with his affairs and belt, the mother looking the other way, it was unreal! I loved this book! Please let the author know how much it "hit home" for me. I am a bookseller at Borders and as soon as this book becomes available, I will put it as one of my staff selections. That means it will have a front row seat in our store. I also have a very large book club that will go nuts over it! This will be an easy hand-sell for me and I can see it becoming a very big title (it will if I have any say so). I also plan to put it on my Facebook page and rate it on Amazon. I'm looking forward to more from Anna Jean Mayhew.
Margaret Holdman, Borders, St. Louis, MO
13-year-old narrator spins winning tale of life in Charlotte in the '50s — Sooner or later somebody had to do it: Put Charlotte in a box. Charlotte l954, with all its peculiarities and foibles. Not love, not hate, just was. In The Dry Grass of August, Anna Jean Mayhew gets it all in: Ivey's department store (now Dillard's), which shrouded its windows on Sundays lest anyone be tempted toward commerce. Sweet Daddy Grace with the red, white and blue Prayer for All People church. Trade and Tryon, Queen's Road, Freedom Park, the Manor Theater. Although not always a pretty world, it was a real world for those of us who knew it. Mayhew adroitly draws the '50s suburban family: social-climbing mama; hard-drinking, country club, postwar contractor father; preening, just-got-saved-at-a-crusade big sister; pesky, perfect younger sister; and the dividend, "gotta have a boy" baby brother, all lovingly tended by Mary Luther, the full-time help. June Bently Watts, our 13-year-old narrator, sees all, tells all, but doesn't quite know what all is happening in her parents' world, Mary's world and ours. Mayhew has one of the truest ears for Southern speech and idioms I've ever read. June's story sometimes breaks your heart and sometimes strains credibility. I couldn't quite picture a 13-year-old stealing the family car in the middle of the night and driving from Pawleys Island to Charlotte, even if she did take the back roads. Or when June and her sister accompany Mary to a tent revival at an AME Zion church in Claxton, Ga. – except it's one of the most beautifully wrought, pivotal scenes in the book. Several incidents, too, seem swung a little too hard and fast for working in background facts. On the whole, though, The Dry Grass in August is a masterful work of blending time and place. Any book these days with a child narrator, Southern setting and racial conflict is compared to To Kill a Mockingbird and more recently The Help, which can be both a curse and a blessing &ndash: blessing because you know a bit of what to expect, and curse because those are pretty high standards to live up to. Where does The Dry Grass of August fit? It's up to the reader.
Ruth Moose, The News and Observer, Sunday, March 27, 2011
“The Dry Grass of August is a haunting debut about family bonds that stretch without breaking, and a panoramic glimpse into an older America and the dying of an age. Young Jubie Watts is the perfect heroine and narrator of this tale with her clear-eyed look at the inconsistencies of the adults around her, and for her courage to ask "why." Ms. Mayhew creates authentic characters and a Southern setting that will make you feel and smell a summer day from half a century ago. A beautiful book that fans of The Help will enjoy.”
Karen White, New York Times bestselling author
I was sent an ARC of this one by the publisher. Yesterday I started thumbing through. 3 hours later, I was still reading, mesmerized. An authentic look at the South of the 50s, the novel is a truly beautiful, page-turner of a story. 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 so many layers that more than one, fast read will be necessary. And it's the kind of book I'll look forward to reading 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.
Augusta, at www.goodreads.com
A Future Classic — The Dry Grass of August tells the deceptively simple story of Jubie, a privileged white teen whose eyes are beginning to open to the end-products of 1950s racism. Although parallels might be drawn between this novel and, say, To Kill a Mockingbird, this book offers broader and deeper examinations of class differences and family dynamics, which enrich the story considerably. 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. I have a feeling that this will be one of the rare novels that begs for multiple readings — the first, hurried time to find out what happens, but with many leisurely rereadings to savor the language and storytelling.
Pat, at www.goodreads.com
The Dry Grass of August — Jubie’s is like a lot of white families in the segregated South of the 1950s. 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 &mdash 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. In this amazing book by a first-time novelist, unanticipated events rock the very foundation of the family and the community. A terrifically told story about race, family, and first love, Mayhew’s novel is hauntingly realistic, hard to believe and above all, not to be missed.
Augusta Scattergood, Delta Magazine, Volume 8, Number 5, March-April 2011, P. 42
The Dry Grass of August (Kensington Books). Based on her experiences growing up in the segregated South, this 70-year-old North Carolina author has written a novel about a young, upper-class housewife named Paula who travels with her 13-year-old daughter, Jubie and black maid Mary Luther on a two-week vacation to Pawley's Island, S.C., during the 1954 summer of civil rights protests. Jubie has had a violent and rocky relationship with her father, Bill Watts, and Mary has protected her from him as best she can. So when Mary is raped and murdered, Jubie's world falls apart. and she steals her mother's car and drives 200 miles back to North Carolina to attend Mary's funeral. This initiates Jubie's liberation from her father's tyranny, fueled further when Watts is charged with shady business dealings, connections to white supremacists, and the death of a young boy due to Watt's negligence. Some of us may remember that 1954 was the year of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision, which overturned the Plessy Doctrine of separate-but-equal schools, and Mayhew brings that era to life and underscores the horrors of de jure segregation.
Tom Elliott, Mensa Bulletin, Issue 543, March 2011, P. 60
Hats Off to Anna Jean Mayhew — “Her book, The Dry Grass of August, was chosen as an Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance: http://www.sibaweb.com/okra”
Virginia Freedman, North Carolina Writers Network, Wednesday, 02 March 2011 19:57
The Dry Grass of August — 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.
McGuffyAnn Morris, McGuffy's Reader, April 13, 2011
The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew — 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.
Dera Williams, APOOO Literary Book Reviews, May 30, 2011
The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew. Published 2011 by Kensington Books.— The Dry Grass of August is a lovely and heartfelt story about segregation and racial injustice in the South of 1954. Young Jubie Watts is a young daughter of a troubled family; one summer, her mother takes her and her other children from their home in North Carolina deeper south to Florida to stay with relatives. They bring their maid, Mary Luther, an African-American woman who has worked for the family for many years. One night, after Mary takes the girls to a religious meeting, a tragedy befalls the Watts and Luther families both, and Jubie is left to sort out the consequences on her own. I will admit that I don't read a lot of fiction that deals with racial issues in the United States; when I have, the books often strike me as didactic and heavy-handed, which is something I don't like in fiction. I like books that present the world as a complex place, where life lessons are difficult to wrestle with and people are not reduced to stereotypes, even good ones. I was happy to find that The Dry Grass of August is such a book. What happens to Mary is unambiguously wrong, but it's the responses of those around her and the family that make for thought-provoking reading and probably interesting discussion, too. I enjoyed this book a lot. I like Mayhew's writing style, clear and lyrical at the same time, and I like the rich characters she creates, especially of course young Jubie but I thought her mother was also a fascinating character. I like the tender friendship between Jubie and Leesum, a member of Mary's "church family," from which Jubie learns a bittersweet lesson. Mayhew wraps Jubie's coming of age story into the overall narrative alongside her father's troubles and the family's difficult future. I think Dry Grass would be a great choice for book clubs as well. A great book for summer, I'm sure that lots of readers will enjoy and appreciate Mayhew's satisfying and graceful novel.
Marie, Boston Bibliophile, June 8, 2011
Charlotte native tells gripping story about 1950s South — I don’t remember now where I first heard about A.J. Mayhew’s debut novel, The Dry Grass of August, but I do remember looking it up on some book-related website and, after reading a short synopsis, thinking, “I have to read that book.” After checking it out from the Orange County Public Library, (the Person library can get it for you) I read it over a period of two days. “Gripping” may be an understatement in describing this tale of racial tensions, love, loyalty, complicated family relationships, and conflict. I’ve read several books set in the segregated South, but this one tells a story that is at once so heartbreaking and heartwarming that it is near the top of my all-time favorites set during the Jim Crow era. Although I have vague memories of seeing the “Whites Only” signs around my hometown in South Carolina, today it is hard to believe that the world was ever that way. I’m sorry that it was. Anna Jean Mayhew is apparently sorry that it was that way in her hometown of Charlotte, N.C., which is close to where I grew up. One reason the book appealed to me is that, while reading, I could picture Queens Road, McDowell Street, Tryon Street and other locations she so vividly paints, as they were back in my childhood days in the 1960s. Another reason I loved the book is because of the story it tells and the poignant way in which Mayhew presents it. She doesn’t slide into platitudes or clichés, as many books dealing with the subject do. Rather, Mayhew hits head-on the contemptible manner in which some chose – often still choose – to treat their fellow man. Told by 13-year-old June Bentley (Jubie) Watts, The Dry Grass of August gives us a clear cut view of the prejudices that existed in 1954, the year that Brown vs. Board of Education brought about racial integration in southern public schools. It also paints a vivid picture of the suffering that came about before, during and, yes, after that time, due in large part to ignorance. Jubie and her family leave Charlotte on a vacation trip to Florida. Accompanying Jubie, her three young siblings and their mother is the Watts’ maid, Mary. Along the way, Jubie learns just how much some people can hate others simply because of their skin color. Through powerful storytelling, Mayhew manages to make several distinct statements in this book. The main one I brought away from it is that, no matter how much we love someone, we can never make the world right for him or her. All we can do is be a friend, maintain our own character, and try to influence others by doing the right thing.
Phyliss Boatwright – C-T Books Editor, The Courier=Times, Person County Reads – Roxboro, NC – Page B1, Saturday, June 18, 2011
A little gem of a novel — It's hard to heap praise on a novel without readers suspecting that I'm in the author's writers' group or something, so let me say, I'd never heard of her, when I picked up this book in the store because the cover attracted me (!) and found the beginning engaging. It stayed engaging. Race relations in the Jim Crow South are a hard subject to handle well. Mayhew wisely doesn't try to adopt a black woman's point of view and instead tells the story completely through the eyes of Jubie, the 13-year-old second daughter of this white, prosperous family. Often, a coming-of-age novel is about a young person whose new knowledge and experience was valuable but unsought — someone who grows because of the changes s/he goes through, and accepts or sometimes embraces them but didn't seek them out. Jubie seeks hers, actively. She's smart and engaged with her world and wants to learn and understand. None of the 4 kids in this family are cliches. I was afraid that this would be the standard story in which there's a pretty older sister who's into fashion and boys, and that Jubie, the second child, would be the typically gawky kid who longs to be her pretty sibling, but whom the reader sees is actually made of finer stuff and has a richer life ahead of her, yadda yadda. That's been done so often, and sometimes very well, but I was *delighted* when Mayhew kicked that to the curb and let Jubie be fairly well-developed, sociable, pretty, and brave. Mayhew also made Stell (the elder sister) much more than a romance-oriented teenager. She's smart, observant, and self-confident, interested in exploring her faith. The other two children are younger and figure more lightly in the story but they're fully realized characters, and the parents are fully dimensional, flawed – in the dad's case, badly flawed – human beings. The author navigates these waters very sensitively. We see Mary Luther, the family's black maid, speak well most of the time, but adopt a more submissive posture and speech pattern when she confronts a dangerous redneck. But it's 1954 in the deep South, and while survival necessitates moments of acquiescence, Mary is courageous and confrontational enough to contradict a racist remark by one of her employer's own friends there in the house in which she's the maid. I found this novel to be crafted with exceptional insight and beauty, and a note of hope despite its tragic element – and I really really hope it takes off!
Faience (Murrells Inlet, SC USA), www.amazon.com, June 20, 2011
Mayhew Has Ear for Southern Speech — What was Charlotte like in the 1950s? You didn’t have to live there to learn, but if you lived there then, Anna Jean Mayhew’s Dry Grass in August is twice the good read among the pages. Charlotte “back in the day” – or once upon a time – had its own distinctions. No big bank buildings downtown, just Eckerds and K&W Cafeteria on the Square of Trade and Tryon. Down the blocks, past Belks and Ivey’s, you had a nice Sears (where you went to buy school clothes and Craftsman tools, plus an appliance or two) and behind that, Sweet Daddy Grace’s church with the red, white and blue steps. Ivey’s Tulip Terrace was a tea room where ladies wore hats and gloves and ate dainty things. Rarely a male entered this serene place. Queens Road went east and west and wherever it wanted to, and behind it lay a section where the “help” lived in shotgun houses. Mayhew’s mythical Watts family of the 1950s lives in the right section. Their full-time maid, Mary Luther, lives in another section. Dry Grass begins with a family vacation to Florida, to which Mary Luther is brought along to tend the baby brother and keep the family going, because slowly, slowly this family is coming apart. June Bently Watts, our 13-year-old narrator, is one who sees all but doesn’t quite know what all to make of it. Her parent’s marriage, “a college girl like Mama married to a country carpenter like Daddy.” And big sister Stell Ann getting religious about the same time she gets her driver’s license. And the ways of Mary Luther’s world. I won’t tell you who or how somebody “kills the mockingbird” in this one, but I will say Anna Jean Mayhew has a true ear for Southern speech and that Dry Grass is a carefully researched, beautifully written, quietly told tale of love and despair and a look backward at the way it was back then in the South.
Ruth Moose, a longtime reviewer for The Pilot, is a creative writing instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill. The Pilot, June 25, 2011
Wonderfully Written – Book Review — Inevitable comparisons are already being made of this recent debut novel to The Help, The Secret Life of Bees and even To Kill a Mockingbird – comparisons well deserved. Mayhew has given us a powerful story of lost innocence in the face of racial injustice – a story that comes to us through the voice of 13-year-old Jubie Watts, a whilte girl from Charlotte, North Carolina. It's August, 1954, only two-and-a-half months after the US Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that separate is not equal. As Jubie and her family head into the deep South for vacation, Jubie notices signs declaring, "Segregation ain't broke. Don't fix it." With the family is Mary Luther, their black maid. Mary is the emotional center of the family – especially so for Jubie, whose bond with Mary runs deep. The car trip, of course, is the journey from childhood to adulthood. The farther south the family travels, Jubie comes to understand both her family's own dysfunction and the degrading treatment handed out to Mary. It's an awakening. When tragedy strikes, Jubie rebels against her family, her father in particular, making a decision that thrusts her squarely on the path toward maturity. The book's title alludes to a passage in Isaiah warning against the ravages of anger, even righteous anger, and vengeance: Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord.... Jubie's awakening mirrors society's. Nearly 60 years have passed since the era of this novel; there is now an African-American in the Oval Office. It would be a wonderful discussion to talk about progress, or lack of progrress, in the nation's understanding of prejudice.
Molly Lundquist, a former college English instructor, who loves to read and can't stop talking about literature. Litlovers – A Well Read Online Community, August 2011
Another new book, The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew, takes us all the way back to the racially-segregated Charlotte of 1954 and the poignant story of a young girl who loves her family’s African American servant and does not understand the brutal racism that ultimately destroys the person who was the center of her family.
D.G. Martin, hosts UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch — DailyAdvance.com, Elizabeth City, NC Monday, August 22, 2011.
Young Adult Book Review: The Dry Grass of August. SIGNAL is the International Reading Association's Special Interest Group Network on Adolescent Literature; our mission is promoting the reading and use of young adult literature. We define adolescent and/or young adult literature (YAL) as books written specifically for adolescents, young adults, teens. These books have a young protagonist who deals with issues that other young people face, or might have to face. Additionally, adolescent literature is anything that young adults choose to read. Publishers have an impact when they select to market a book as YAL. An example of a book that was written for adults but has been marketed as young adult is The Dry Grass of August (2011). The year is 1954; Brown vs. Board of Education threatens to end an entrenched way of life in the segregated South. June Bentley Watts (Jubie) is 13 and growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina. In a week and a half of one summer, she develops from a sheltered, gawky adolescent into a young activist without completely understanding what happened. This transformation begins when Mama takes her three daughters, Stell, Jubie, Puddin’, and baby Davie to Pensacola to visit her younger brother Taylor. Mary, their black maid, accompanies them. Disaster looms from the first page of the novel, as tension and danger mount with every mile. The family has fled Daddy and his alcoholic rages as they have before; Jubie’s flashbacks reveal the developing discord at home that prompted the vacation. The author Anna Jean Mayhew grew up in Charlotte in the 50s, so the voices ring unflinchingly true with authentic regional color. Jubie is another compelling heroine, and older teens or mature younger readers will appreciate this book with its powerful message laced with historical accuracy.
Dr. Judith A. Hayn, Associate Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock — Reading Today Online, Wednesday, September 14, 2011 — This article is part of a series from the Special Interest Group Network on Adolescent Literature (SIGNAL).
The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew, a worldwide upcoming bestseller. The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew is a debut novel published in the US in May 2011 (Kensington Publishing) and whose translation rights are starting to be sold in many countries including France. It seems that some burning auctions are currently taking place and the name of the French publishers should be unveiled very soon. This impressive debut deserves high praise and above all a careful look. It took the author 18 years to write it and should follow The Help as a book all book clubs will want to get their hands on. I have been very impressed by the cross over potential of this literary novel and a movie based on this story could really be something intergenerational! Here is a brief synopsis: 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, from wounded to indomitable.
Laure Kniazeff, Best-seller to Box-office, Paris (France) — September 23, 2011
The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew (Kensington Books). Jubie’s is like a lot of white families in the segregated South of the 1950s. 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. In this amazing book by a first-time novelist, unanticipated events rock the very foundation of the family and the community. A terrifically told story about race, family, and first love, Mayhew’s novel is hauntingly realistic, hard to believe and above all, not to be missed.
Augusta Scattergood, Delta Magazine, Cleveland (MS) — September/October 2011
Author’s book 'superior' to The Help. "The Dry Grass of August is a superior book to The Help, even if it doesn’t sell 3 million copies." So writes Christina Bucher in the North Carolina Literary Review about the book that will be featured on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch this afternoon at 5 p.m. The author of The Dry Grass of August, Hillsborough's Anna Jean Mayhew, takes us all the way back to the racially segregated Charlotte of 1954 and a poignant story of a young girl in a family under stress, being pulled apart by forces the girl does not understand. It is a story, in Lee Smith’s words, that is "written with unusual charm, wonderful dialogue, and a deeply felt sense of time and place." More about that story later, but the story of Mayhew’s writing life is also worth telling. She was well past her 70th birthday when Dry Grass, her first novel was published. The book was almost 20 years in the writing. A supportive writing group read Mayhew’s drafts and redrafts, giving her the encouragement and support to keep going. Dry Grass was a surprise best-seller and continues to benefit from favorable critical attention and word of mouth recommendations. It won for Mayhew the prestigious Sir Walter Raleigh Award, established in 1952 and given by the Historical Book Club of North Carolina each year to the North Carolina writer who published the work of fiction judged the best. In making the award, Nan Kester, president of the book club, explained how Mayhew’s life experience conditioned her for literary success, saying that her "past career experiences equipped her with skills that prepared her for writing, her fourth career. She was a court reporter, which gave her invaluable insights into speech patterns and dialect, bringing truth to the dialogue in her fiction; in opera management, which taught her the importance of plot and flair for the dramatic production; editor of a major medical journal, which gave her the research skills necessary to validate the historical facts in her fiction set in the 1950s and '60s." The novel’s story begins in the Myers Park neighborhood where Mayhew grew up. The Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision putting an end to legal segregation in public schools has stirred up a hornets' nest of racist reactions throughout the white community. Meanwhile 13-year-old Jubie Watts is deeply attached to Mary Luther, Jubie's family's African-American servant. Jubie bristles at the indignities that Mary Luther suffers, ill-treatment from Jubie's parents and guests, always riding in the back seat of the car, and not being allowed to eat or sleep in the same facilities as the family on trips. Meanwhile Jubie’s dad is active in a White Business organization that uses its employment power to take jobs from blacks who try to vote or otherwise challenge the white dominant system. Jubie adores Mary Luther and that affection is returned as loving discipline and support that Jubie craves. With very little positive attention from her troubled mother and father, Jubie needs all the help she can get. With her look back at a racial and cultural society in transition, Mayhew also delivers a coming of age novel that will touch readers’ hearts. Then she serves up a tragic moment that will give those same hearts a hurt that will be long remembered. Continuing her comparison with The Help, reviewer Bucher says that "The Dry Grass of August and Minrose Guin's "stunning debut novel, The Queen of Palmyra, offer a more nuanced view of this complicated, troublesome time in the not-so-distant past, when it was debatable the 'dreams of the Good' would—or could—prevail over the 'killers of the dream.'"
D.G. Martin, The Herald Sun — The Chapel Hill Herald, Chapel Hill (NC) — April 22, 2012