Friday 21 December 2012

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

Sandra Dallas is a very successful American author and has published 12 novels.  Tallgrass was published by St Martin's Press in 2007.    I haven't read any of Sandra Dallas' books before and was drawn to Tallgrass by the subject; the Japanese interment camps opened in America during World War II.    I knew nothing about these camps until I read the brilliant Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford, ever since then, I have been looking out for more novels based on this theme.

In February 1942, just two months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorising the federal government to relocate all people of Japanese ancestry who were living on the West Coast.  At great financial and emotional sacrifice, more than 100,000 people, many of them native-born Americans, were uprooted and sent to ten desolate inland camps. 

Tallgrass was an old ranch on the outskirts of the small town of Ellis, Colorado which the government turned into a relocation camp to house people of Japanese origin.

The narrator of the story is thirteen-year-old Rennie Stroud, she and her family live on a farm, not far away from Tallgrass.  This is not a story about what happens inside Tallgrass, it is the story of the impact of the camp on this small town and it's inhabitants.   Rennie lives with her Father, Mother and elderly Grandmother.  Her brother Buddy has joined the Army, her sister Marthalice has moved away to Denver.   The war has brought hardship to the townsfolk with rationing and the shortage of farmhand labour.

Most of the townsfolk of Ellis don't want the Japanese people amongst them, they are suspicious, scared and  hostile towards them.   When a local girl is raped and murdered, the finger of suspicion points directly at Tallgrass and it's inhabitants.     Rennie's father is an outspoken man who will not tolerate ignorance and hate and makes the decision to hire some of the Japanese to help out on the farm, there are many people in the town who do not agree with this and are not afraid to speak their minds.  Not least, some of the members of Rennie's mother's quilting circle; The Jolly Stitchers.

Many reviewers have compared Tallgrass to To Kill A Mockingbird, others have commented that this should be classed as a Young Adult read.   Personally, I don't think that the two novels should be compared, yes there are some similarities, but these are two completely different stories, but have a theme of ignorance,hate and ultimately justice.   The story is narrated by a thirteen-year-old, which makes the language simplistic and easy to read, but this does not make it a Young Adult read - it is a story that should be read by all ages.

There are some tough issues raised in Tallgrass; murder, rape, domestic violence, drug abuse and prejudice. Sandra Dallas depicts small-town American life very well, the gossip, the loyality, the underlying menace.  Her characters are well-drawn and come alive from the page - the wicked and evil characters take centre stage alongside the great and the good.

I enjoyed Tallgrass very much and will look forward to reading more books by Sandra Dallas.

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