Prather’s Pick: Getting lost in the ‘Tallgrass’
Craig — “Tallgrass,” this week’s bestselling novel for adults, was written by Sandra Dallas, who lives in Denver.
The novel is totally fiction, but in “acknowledgments” at the beginning of the book, the author gives the reader some historical background for the book’s setting.
According to the author, the novel is based on the events following Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor. It authorized the federal government to relocate people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast.
The book begins in Ellis, an Eastern Slope farming town in sugar beet country.
It’s summer 1942, a group of townspeople have gathered at the train depot to gawk at a group of Japanese evacuees, the first to be relocated at the old Tallgrass Ranch, now a camp with guard towers, barracks and barbed wire. It’s a mile and a half from Ellis.
Among the people to gather is 13-year-old Rennie Stroud. She sneaked away from the family farm next to Tallgrass because she’s never seen Japanese before.
It’s not that Rennie was exactly forbidden to come to town, but she knows how her father feels about people gathering to stare at the Japanese. He thinks they should leave the evacuees alone. He corrects Rennie when she refers to the Japanese as “Japs,” too.
The story is told from Rennie’s point of view, an excellent choice of narrator. Through the eyes and ears of a young girl, the reader experiences the prejudices, fears and suspicions of the community.
Rennie finds the Japanese to be ordinary-looking people, not people with yellow skin, slanted eyes and buckteeth, as she’s been told. Her father and mother, Loyal and Mary Stroud, don’t hate the Japanese but even so, Rennie is afraid.
Rennie’s parents ask her opinion about things now, like Tallgrass. That’s because she’s the only child at home since brother Buddy joined up and sister Marthalice went off to work in Denver. That leaves Dad and Mom, Rennie, and Granny, who “forgets” and can’t be left alone.
Time passes. Tension builds. Someone robs Elliot Drug and tears up a “No Japs Served” sign that hung in the window.
A fire is set at the railroad trestle. The Denver Post reports the most dangerous Japanese agents have been sent to Tallgrass. The townspeople are afraid of the Japanese and the Japanese are afraid of the townspeople.
And then Susan Reddick, a young crippled girl, is murdered.
There is no clear suspect.
Through it all, Loyal and Mary Stroud stand tall. They visit Tallgrass and hire young Japanese men to help with the farming. Daisy, a young Japanese girl, helps in the house with the cooking.
The reader meets individual families and gets involved in their struggles. The book’s characters are interesting.
It’s a coming-of-age novel and lots more. I could hardly put it down.
“Tallgrass” was published by St. Martin’s Press (2007) and costs $23.95 in hardcover. ISBN 0-312-36019-3.
Copyright Diane Prather, 2007. All rights reserved.
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