Friday, October 17, 2008

Book Review: Tallgrass

This isn't my first Sandra Dallas book. I liked Alice's Tulips, The Diary of Mattie Spencer, and New Mercies well enough; all three were light reads, somewhat formulaic but enjoyable as "in between" reads.

But I found Tallgrass to be a step above Dallas's usual writing. For one, I love the subject matter. Or maybe I don't love the subject matter, but I am always mystified as to why this subject is so little discussed in the history of the U.S. The Tallgrass of the novel is the fictional name (but based on a real Colorado camp) of a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II. I've always found this to be a fascinating part of our recent history, and yet I don't think I was really aware of it until graduate school, when I took a class in minority literature. Toshio Mori's Yokohama, California, a collection of short stories that portray a Japanese American community right before WWII, and Mine Okubo's Citizen 13360, a graphic novel depicting Okubo's life as a teenage college student in an internment camp, just blew me away. I had heard of the internment camps, and my father had a couple of Japanese-American colleagues who had lived in internment camps, but these things were only whispered about, said in a cautionary sort of way.

Tallgrass, unlike the abovementioned titles, is told from the perspective of a 13-year-old girl who, like everyone else in the world, watches her safe world change rapidly with World War II. The people of her tiny rural town are in further upheaval when an internment camp is built at the edge of town and thousands of Japanese Americans are brought to live there. Rennie Stroud's father welcomes the Japanese, much to the dismay of the townspeople, but Rennie isn't so sure she is comfortable with "the enemy" being housed at the edge of their farm. When a local girl is murdered, the town is convinced that one of the prisoners is responsible.

This book is part historical fiction and part coming-of-age. Rennie is a likeable character, and I love the relationship she has with her family. Dallas's characters are for the most part well-developed, although I didn't get quite enough of a feel for the internment camp itself. I'm not sure I could have visualized it very well had I not read other books on the subject. But besides that, I really loved this book.

I was amazed to get When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka in the mail last week, as well. I'd read Natasha's review of this at Maw Books and had forgotten that I'd ordered a copy from Paperback Swap. I'm looking forward to reading it next. Other books I've read years ago related to this topic: The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Creel, which I absolutely loved, and the more well-known Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. Both of these were turned into movies in which I recall being quite disappointed.

If you don't know anything about this period in American history, these six books are a great place to start. You might even want to take this a step further and read a different perspective on American history than what you probably learned in school. Ronald Takaki's A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, traces the economic and political history of various racial and ethnic groups in America—Chinese, Indians, African Americans, Mexicans, Japanese, Irish, and Jewish people. I found this text to be enlightening and valuable in providing a more rounded view of American history.

Other Review of Tallgrass:
Lesa at Lesa's Book Critiques
Lynne's Little Corner of the World

(If you've reviewed this book, please leave a comment and I'll link to you!)


Natasha @ Maw Books said...

Like you I have become interested in this subject matter, but for me just more recently. I hope you enjoy When the Emperor Was Divine.

Avid Book Reader said...

Interesting, I live in Colorado and have visited the site where the Japanese were interred during the War. This looks like it would be a great way to learn more about it with a little fiction thrown in.

Lynne said...

I read this one too and loved it. My review is here.

Literary Feline said...

Thank you for the great review. I must add this to my wish list. Anything WWII (well, almost) interests me, and the Japanese internment is no different. I missed out on the school field trip to Angel's Island in California by a year because my family moved to Northern California too late, but because it was so close, its history was a big part of my education. It had once been an internment camp.

Marg said...

This sounds like something I would really enjoy. Thanks for reviewing it!

BChsMamaof3 said...

I read Tallgrass and really loved it to :) I'm glad I read your entry on it because I have racking my brain trying to remember the name of it for my mom *grin*. She wanted me to order it from the library but for the life of me I couldn't think of the name!! I'm reading Water for Elephants right now and enjoying it, but I'm nearly finished so I'm going to peruse your list and and head over to semicolons blog so I can make a new list again :)
Hope you are having a wonderful weekend!

Ang said...

Hi, Sarah, just came across this site becasue of your Bibs post at Sonlight. I, too, record all of my reading. Many of our family members review the books we read and movies we see on our website. Feel free to pop into our site and sign into the forum if you are interested. It's easy to get around. If you join, use your SL name and I will know it's you and will accept your registration as soon as I see it.

I have bookmarked your site and will try to return it. I love to read about books others have enjoyed and add them to my TBR list!

Ang (TogetherForGood at SL)

Cindy-Still His Girl said...

Why can I not for the life of me remember a book I read about people in the Japanese internment camps? Seems like it was fairly popular a few years ago? HELP!

I'm putting this on my list for the library.