Sandra Dallas, 2007, 320 p.
Wowie zowie, this novel is great! It’s always such a treat to be pleasantly surprised by the unexpected excellence of a book written by a relatively unknown author. For some inexplicable reason, I kept pushing Tallgrass aside for other reads over and over again. It was on my sidebar forever. I don’t know why I was feeling so hesitant about reading it, because it certainly didn’t deserve to be treated that way. Tallgrass is one of the better novels I’ve read in the past couple of years, and it deserves some respect!
The novel’s characters are a thirteen year old girl named Rennie Stroud, her parents, the often horrible people of Ellis, Colorado, and some Japanese residents of a nearby (fictional) internment camp. This is the second novel I’ve read about the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II (the other was Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars, which, by the way, I found to be tedious and trivial).
Tallgrass is a mutifaceted novel, which is always appealing. It’s part bildungsroman, part murder mystery, part historical novel, part family saga and part morality play all rolled into one well-written package. Another appealing aspect of the novel is that it’s written about western people by a western writer (Sandra Dallas lives in Denver). The townspeople of Ellis typify the western mindset to a tee. Colorado people won’t give you the time of day until they decide you’re okay. Colorado people are suspicious and closed-off until they aren’t. Colorado people are the most frustratingly contradictory people in the world, but if you can win them over to your side, you’ve got the greatest allies in the world. Ms. Dallas definitely understands Colorado and its people.
The only complaint I have about Tallgrass is that there were times when it seemed to be a bit too derivative of To Kill a Mockingbird. This isn’t much of a complaint, because I love TKAM, but there were a few instances when I thought Dallas cut it awfully close. Other than this niggling little point, Tallgrass is a wonderful read.
Years ago, while driving back from Yellowstone, my parents and I stopped at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming to take a look around. There wasn’t much left of the buildings, but it still gave me an eerie feeling to walk through the desolate site. I imagined the lonely spirits of some of the people who had been incarcerated there following me and telling me not to forget about them. I never have. Germany wasn’t the only country during the Second World War to have concentration camps.
Here are some pictures I found while surfing today. Oh, the evil that men do!
Amache Internment Camp (Grenada, Colorado)
Dr. Seuss drew a bunch of these. It changes my whole image of him.
“Members of the Mochida family awaiting evacuation bus. Identification tags were used to aid in keeping a family unit intact during all phases of evacuation. Mochida operated a nursery and five greenhouses on a two-acre site in Eden Township.” In 1942 Executive Order 9066 ordered the removal of 110,000 civilians of Japanese descent, including 71,000 American citizens, from the western United States, placing them in internment camps.
By Dorothea Lange, Hayward, California, May 8, 1942