Book Club: The Dry Grass of August

Hooray, hooray, it’s book club day!!

I had told you all about a book I read called Tomorrow’s Bread.  I had said I liked it and from there, readers wrote to recommend another book by the same author, Anna Jean Mayhew.  The book they recommended was The Dry Grass of August.

The Dry Grass of August by [Anna Jean Mayhew]
A few other readers chimed in and recommended the book too.  That’s when I thought it might be fun to have a book club…at least for one book.  In advance, I would tell you all the book title and you would have a month to read or listen to the book.  Then I’d write a review…I’m hoping many of you will chime in and leave comments about what you thought about the book too.

So did I like it?  YES.  I liked it a lot and am so happy with the recommendation that I read it.  Several times while I was listening I told myself to slow down and really savor the book.  I really tried to.

Here is what Amazon said about the book…
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, 13-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.”

So onto some book club points for discussion:

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?

Personally, I was a little surprised that they took Mary along.  At the stops along the way, it was hard to find overnight housing for Mary and Paula knew that in advance.  I think Paula took her as she selfishly wanted to have a vacation for herself.  Carrying for the children wouldn’t allow her to be the carefree self she wanted to be.  I also think that Paula seemed pretty naive throughout the entire story.

Why didn’t Paula try to stop Bill from beating Jubie?

I think we are reading this with the life experience and the times of 2020 – not the 50s.  I don’t think women of the 50s were allowed to speak up like the women of today do.  I also think that “getting the belt” was a common punishment of the 50s.  Many of you reading this I’m sure “got the belt” and it wasn’t thought of as a terrible punishment as we think of it today.  Of course, that does not make it right.  It is just a way of life between then and now.

Why did the clown at Joyland by the Sea give Jubie a rose?

The clown was black.  I’m sure he overheard the conversation when Jubie insisted and even paid extra for Mary to be allowed in.  I’m sure the clown was acknowledging Jubie’s ability to fight for Mary thus, gave her the rose.

Which major character changes the most? The least?

I think Paula changed the most.  She went from a socialite who was willing to stick her head in the sand to keep her place in society to an almost an activist.  She leaves her husband and position because she finally gets the courage to stand up for what is right.  At the end of the book, she even gets a job…and one that likely won’t pay much but will help others.  I finally found a little respect for her as the book was closing.

I’d love for you all to chime in and give your opinion on the questions I answered…and I’m leaving some for you to answer as well.

Why does Paula take Bill back after his affair with her brother’s wife?

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? The tent meeting in Claxton?

Why didn’t Paula punish Jubie for stealing the Packard to go to Mary’s Funeral?

Which character in the book did you identify with the most? The least?

Please leave some comments and let’s talk about this book…

By the way…Amazon readers gave the book 4.3 stars.  What rating would you give the book?

Personally, I believe the book was about a 4.5 book.  I would have loved if the book would have been about 70 pages longer and the story about Bill and the backroom could have unfolded a little more slowly…a little more mystery to it all.

If you didn’t read the book earlier and would like to now, you can find it HERE.  It’s free to Audible listeners and free to Kindle Unlimited users.

If there is a book you would like to suggest that we all read, please leave the name of the book in the comments.  I’d love to do another book club book.








16 thoughts on “Book Club: The Dry Grass of August”

  1. I read this book several years ago and enjoyed it. I didn’t reread it for the book club, so I can’t really comment on the discussion questions.
    The idea of a book club is great! Hope you get good participation!

  2. I’m sorry! I missed the announcement. I’ll try and read the next book if you do it again. I’ll have to see if I can find the book and read it anyway.

  3. Hmm. First, I love the book club concept. Please don’t take my comments on this book as a reflection of the idea. I expected to love this book because I enjoy books covering this time frame and these topics. Unfortunately, this one didn’t go it for me. It felt a little too contrived – like every character flaw and possible plot line was thrown in. I’d rather have had deeper character development – especially of Mary.

    Living in that period I was amused by the product references – haven’t thought of those brands in many years.

    If you ever get to Paducah, Kentucky for the quilt museum or show check out the hotel there that was available to African American travelers. It’s chilling to acknowledge how we have (and unfortunately still do) treat each other.

  4. I grew up in the Deep South in the 50s. I was made aware from a young age that there were separate drinking fountains, bathrooms, and places I could go but Blacks could not. I started to drink from a Black only fountain once and my mother grabbed me before I could. Also, “getting the belt” was an almost every day thing at my house, with 4 brothers and me being imperfect kids and our Mom believing that this was ordained in the Bible. You got it, you got over it, and you tried to avoid it.

  5. First a disclaimer; I’m a literature nerd and taught lit for years. So, the book was well written. I liked her use of language to paint a mental image. From what I have learned throughout my life it seems as if Mayhew did a good job representing the tensions of those times. Not just the black/white tensions but the tensions between the traditional husband and wife roles as well. I don’t think the beatings given by the father were at all acceptable even by those times’ standards. I think Paula valued her comfort because it gave her a sense of security from it that she couldn’t get from her husband. That mindset let her turn a blind eye to the less pleasant aspects of her life. It took Jubie’s defiance and the loss of the family’s place in society to get her to wake up. I’m glad Mayhew didn’t try to advance the story between Jubie and Leesum. I think that would have come across as too contrived. Some parts were already a bit cliché to me. Mary was a great character,
    But the whole ” black woman is a better nurterer than the white woman” has been done often. Did make me glad to have been born when and where I was. For me a black person has always just been a person. Paula changed for sure. But Stella underwent a large change as well. I like how she eventually opens her eyes to see what is going on in her family and sticks up for her sister. Overall the story was good. I found the funeral scene to be very touching.
    But I didn’t gain any new insights or “learn”anything. It was just a good story. I would give it a 4.4.

  6. Did not get to read the book YET. When I wish to do some extra sewing the reading takes a backseat.
    would like to add my thanks for being born and reared in an environment where people are people all created by God. So much more liberating than having to carry about a false judgment of others. It truly is a blessing.

  7. I very much enjoyed the book. I thought it was well written and so descriptive that I felt I could actually imagine the scenes that were taking place. I grew up in California, so I did not experience firsthand the racism and discrimination that was predominant in the South during that time frame. But I could feel the fear and tension the characters experienced during their journey. For Mary to have to go through the daily insults and yet maintain her patience and grace was amazing. The family were naïve thinking they could take Mary along on a car trip through the deep South, but I’m sure never imagined the extent of the danger. Paula was too selfish to go on the car trip without her “girl” to help with her kids, and keeping up her image was important to Paula. Paula wanted and needed time away from her husband, and Jubie and the kids were always cared for by Mary. Jubie especially needed to get away from her father and his cruel beatings.

    Allowing the daughters to go out alone in the South with Mary seemed very dangerous and unlikely to have happened in real life. Yet that illustrates how something as simple as walking down the street was a risk for a person of color or a female. In this case the girls and Mary were all in danger, and Mary made the ultimate sacrifice for those girls.

    Looking back today on behavior from the 1950s is difficult, because attitudes have changed about many things. Yet today we know that many of these prejudices still remain and it is up to each of us to face and acknowledge them.

    Thanks for the recommendation Jo!

  8. JO, Have you watched the 2018 movie “The Green Book”? Story of a black pianist traveling thru the South, driven by a white driver, to perform? It is an outstanding movie and was nominated for an Academy Award.
    The green book was a book that listed motels and hotels where African Americans could stay in the South.

  9. I normally don’t comment on blogs, but loved the idea of reading a book that one of my favorite bloggers was reading. I thought that the book tried to address the racial issues of the 50’s, but seemed so similar to other books set in the deep south. I struggle with books where beatings and hatred are always in the forefront. At times, I feel that it makes it acceptable to address discipline and differences with “whippings”. Those actions made me uncomfortable as I’ve seen some of the actions continuing now. How do we break that cycle? Thanks for suggesting a “book club”.

  10. I liked this book and read it pretty much straight through in a few sittings. I think I would rate it at 4.5. I grew up in rural North Iowa, so didn’t know of these things in my growing up years. As a young woman, I worked with a black woman that told about she and her husband only being allowed to go to certain movies theaters and sitting in designated areas in their dating years.

    I wasn’t surprised that Paula took Mary on the trip. North Carolina is part of the South, so Mary was already used to the segregated ways and I doubt that they gave it a lot of thought. She was a great help caring for the children.

    I think it was a more responsible action to let Jubie and Stella go with Mary to the parade than to the meeting. The parade was in their hometown where the girls and Mary knew their way around. I think it was irresponsible to let them go to the tent meeting in an unfamiliar area.

    Paula didn’t punish Jubie for stealing the Packard. As she said, she knew she should have gone to the funeral too, and was happy to have someone there representing their family.

  11. Thanks for suggesting the idea of a book club. I appreciated it because it pointed me in a different direction from the normal genre I read, mysteries/thrillers, with some level of assurance that the book would be well written and enjoyable to read.
    As for this specific book, I did enjoy reading it, although I found it to be very sad. I grew up in North Carolina, in a much smaller town than Charlotte, in the late 50’s and 60’s-70’s, and I think the “voice” of the book and its characters was authentic, from the language/idioms used, to the nicknames, social customs, the expectation of womens’ place, and regrettably the treatment of non-whites.
    I didn’t think it was irresponsible for Paula and Bill to let Stell and Jubie go with Mary to the Daddy Grace parade. I actually thought it was somewhat open-minded of them to let Stell pursue her interests into different branches of religions. They trusted Mary, and it was her neighborhood. But I agree it was irresponsible of them to let them go to the tent meeting in South Carolina, where none of them knew the local situation, and should have realized caution was called for.
    Not counting the attack that occurred on the way back from the tent meeting, I thought the cruelest act of discrimination against Mary was when Taylor, Jubie’s uncle gave her a cot in the attic, with no air conditioning, in Florida in August, and to boot reminded her to keep the hall door closed so the a/c would be contained on the main floors of the house. That spoke to how he/they regarded her as an unimportant person, not worth considering her well-being.

  12. I started this book and after 50 to 60 pages lost interest. When I got the notice that it was due back in three days I finally skimmed it. Paula liked the comforts of her position in society more than actively raising a family. I also think she took Mary with them because she wasn’t used to taking care of all four children herself. I think it was irresponsible of Paula to allow her to children to go with Mary to the tent meetings in an unfamiliar area. Also wasn’t Jubie around 13 to 14 years old? And she was driving? I felt like the author portrayed her as someone older, 16 to 18. Some of the actions and thoughts she had seemed too mature for her age. Didn’t Paula and Bill divorce at the end? That is why she got a job, one she was proud to be able to get but that didn’t pay much. I wondered how she was going to support the 5 of them on her salary. As far as giving it a rating, I’d give it about a 3.0. I was not impressed and was basically bored the majority of the time reading it. And yes, I read The Help and thoroughly enjoyed it. And yes, I saw the movie mentioned above and enjoyed it. There’s just too many things in this book that I questioned did or could have really happened. One thing I was thankful that the author included was the sheriff’s diligence at locating Mary’s killer. In spite of being in the south his actions showed him to be less prejudice.

  13. Jo, thanks for recommending my novels! I enjoyed reading the comments, and have to say that many people have commented about Jubie driving at the age of 14; my defense is that a 14-year-old could get a license in 1954 in South Carolina (an agrarian state where teenagers could help on the farm driving trucks, tractors, etc.). Many friends from Charlotte took advantage of that law when we were Jubie’s age. Regarding Paula and Bill giving their daughters permission to go with Mary to the tent meeting, a small town like Claxton, GA–less than 2,000 people in 1954–was so much less problematic than say, for instance, the city of Charlotte. And in the summer of ’54, only 3 mos. after Brown v. Board, things weren’t as riled up as they became later. In my writing group, over the course of a dozen years, the same objections were raised; I opted to do a lot of research and be true to the times.

    I wish you the best with your book club!!

    1. Anna Jean, Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. I loved the book and was sure that you were true to history. Times have changed so much. I loved your book and look forward to more!

  14. Pingback: Ask Jo: An Author Comment, Pies and More | Jo's Country Junction

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