THE DRY GRASS OF AUGUST

Anna Jean Mayhew

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

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

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  • Kensington Books
  • Paperback
  • April 2011
  • 352 Pages
  • 9780758254092

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About Anna Jean Mayhew

Anna Jean (A.J.) Mayhew, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, has never lived outside the state, although she often travels to Europe with her Swiss-born husband. Much of A.J.’s work reflects her vivid memories of growing up in the segregated South. A.J. has been a member of the same writing group since 1987, is a writer-in-residence at The Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, and is a former member of the Board of Trustees of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. The Dry Grass of August is her first novel.

Praise

“I read this book straight through.” —Lee Smith

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

Discussion Questions

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?

Why does Puddin so often try to hide or run away? What does her behavior say about the family?

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

Is Uncle Taylor a racist?

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

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?

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?

What drove Stamos to suicide?

Which major character changes the most? The least?

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

If you could interview Jubie, what would you ask her? What about Mary? Paula? Bill? Stell?

If Bill died at the end of the book, what would his obituary say if Paula wrote it? If Stell wrote it? If Jubie wrote it?

Given that there’s little hope for Jubie and Leesum to be friends in 1954, what would it be like for them if they met again today?