Saturday, September 1, 2007

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

As a historian who happened to grow up in Colorado, this book was poignant for me. I have to admit, I had to pick it up twice before I really got interested in it. It tends to start somewhat slowly and I wasn’t that interested in the story. But, once I got past the first fifty pages, I found it was hard to put the book down.

Tallgrass is the story of Rennie, a 13-year old girl who lives on a beet farm in southeastern Colorado in the early 1940s. Her brother has enlisted in the war, her sister has moved to Denver to work in a munitions factory, and she has to help her parents on the farm. However, just down the road from her house the government has created Tallgrass, a Japanese internment camp for Japanese-Americans. The very realistic story of the everyday life of small town America which has been impinged upon by something so “foreign” (and yes I say that tongue in cheek) is fascinating… moving … heartwarming doesn’t quite sound right. But, it is very real.

My mom gave me this book, as she gives me much of what I read, and we talked about its use in a high school history class. Dallas has an uncanny ability to create believable characters who are realistic because they are not perfect: they make mistakes, they misunderstand situations. But, they also cry and feel and grow because of their experiences.

Part of what I like about Sandra Dallas is that her stories are innocent. If you’ve read this book, you might think that is an odd term to use considering what happens to the characters. But, by innocent I mean that the characters are normal every day people who have normal every day concerns. There is nothing fantastical that happens. There are very sad things that occur and there is a definite loss of innocence amongst her characters. But this are no blood and guts. This is the type of book you could give to a junior high student and not worry overly about the messages that she imparts.

All that having been said, I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone. It is slow at times. And, if you don’t know Colorado, the Denver references won’t necessarily be interesting. Plus, if you are not a history buff, the location in rural, small town Colorado might not be engaging. However, the way that Dallas weaves together the story of the Japanese-Americans who were placed in these camps is not so heavy-handed to feel like a lesson in political correctness. I put the book down and felt enlightened for having read it and considering that it inspired me to start a blog, I would say it is an extremely worthwhile read.


If you liked this book, I would also recommend The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas or anything by Maeve Binchy. Her books, while they take place in Ireland, have a similar quality to Dallas’s.

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