Sandra Dallas’ Tallgrass was a suggested novel for book selection from two members of my One Book group. I decided to pick it up the other afternoon from the library to prepare myself for our next discussion and I spent an enjoyable snow day tucking into the book. Tallgrass is a book similar to Montana 1948 or To Kill A Mockingbird: a coming of age story where an innocent realizes the injustice and corruption within their own communities and where these innocents act as vehicles to portray a strong, male role model fighting on the side of justice. Rennie Stroud, Tallgrass’ heroine, lives in Colorado during World War II when a Japanese internment camp is constructed just outside of town. Dallas explores the town’s racial hatred directed at the Japanese through a series of crimes the unfold within the small town.
I read Tallgrass purely to form an opinion to contribute to my One Book meeting and did not even realize how much I was enjoying it until I was roughly half way through. However, after reading it I am forced to wonder whether the two members who suggested the book had actually read it. Dallas’ novel is a good book and like Montana and Mockingbird is a book that can be enjoyed from the junior high levels to adults. Unfortunately, Tallgrass only barely – and I mean it is scraping by – has anything to do with Japanese people and Japanese culture. It would be like saying of all the fictional works available on Native American experiences you chose Montana or of all the fictional works of black people in the south that you chose Mockingbird. These three books are terrific starting points for discussion in prejudice and racism – something that can always be discussed – but in regards to a book that is meant to represent Japan in some way… It’s entirely defunct.
Tallgrass is told entirely from Rennie Stroud’s perspective and how she observes her father Loyal’s action to the locals prejudice against the Japanese. The Japanese arrive on a bus, go to the internment camp, and a handful of characters eventually work at the Stroud homestead during harvest season. Perhaps the only culturally inspired moment in the book is when the Stroud family visits the internment camp to pay their respect after a Japanese man and former worker dies at boot camp. In many ways this is a splendid book but I dearly hope that of the immense amount of literature available – and after even the briefest research I feel a bit silly how unaware I was of translated Japanese literature – that we can find something more suitable as a group.
My only concern for Color of the Sea has been the sexual conduct and Tallgrass certainly raises questions in this arena as well. The major, hate flaring crime that occurs in Tallgrass is when a thirteen year old, disabled girl has her throat slit and is raped. By the end of the novel, the reader learns of further rapes that are/have been committed in the community. Perhaps I am not allowing for enough credit for my community members but do have to wonder what’s worse to them: any sex at all, a pleasurable representation of sex, or violent sex? However, after doing a great deal of research I am more and more coming to the conclusion that it’s going to be nearly impossible to select a book that does not contain some degree of graphic sex unless we stick with a book specifically from the children’s section and I am afraid that choice may alienate some of the adult members in the community.