|Original Publisher||St. Martin's Press|
|Original Publication Date||2007|
|Awards||Western Writers of America Spur Award|
Coming-of-age novel by Sandra Dallas set in rural Colorado during World War II when the life of adolescent girl and her family is transformed by the arrival of Japanese Americans from the West Coast in a nearby concentration camp.
The protagonist of the novel is Rennie Stroud, thirteen when the war begins, who lives on a beet farm in the small town of Ellis, Colorado, near Tallgrass, a Japanese American concentration camp modeled on Amache, with her parents and grandmother. Two events roil the small town: the rape and murder of a local handicapped girl and the hiring of a few Nisei by town farmers, including Loyal, Rennie's father. The two events come to be conflated in the minds of many in the community as many hold anti-Japanese attitudes and reflexively blame inmates for the murder. Many townspeople, adults and schoolchildren alike, give the Strouds a hard time for hiring the Nisei. Tension in the town continues to build when the Strouds later hire a Nisei teenager named Daisy to help with household chores. Initially suspicious of the "Japanese," Rennie befriends the workers and becomes close to Daisy, causing a gradual shift in her and her family's—and eventually the town's—attitudes towards the camp and its inmates. Though the camp looms over the action in the novel, we enter the camp only once—a brief visit by the Strouds to pass on condolences to the family of one of their former farmworkers who is killed in an accident after joining the army—and Daisy and her brother Carl, one of the farmworkers, are the only significant Japanese American characters.
Author Sandra Dallas (1939– ) learned of the camps in the 1960s, when she visited the Amache site while pheasant hunting. Further research led her to discover that one of journalism classes at the University of Denver was held in a building that had once been a part of Amache. After graduating, she worked for twenty-five years as a staff member—and first female bureau chief—for Business Week magazine, covering the Rocky Mountain area. She then turned to writing fiction and has published thirteen novels, two non-fiction books, and two children's books. Many of her books incorporate the history of the West, and many, including Tallgrass, include quilters. Dallas lives and works in Denver and Georgetown, Colorado.
Mainstream reviews for the book were almost uniformly positive, with Publishers Weekly and Lesa M. Holstine of Library Journal citing Dallas's facility with period and regional language and ability to transport readers to the 1940s. Robert Saunderson of School Library Journal cites it as having "all the elements of a tale well told: complex characters, intriguing plot, atmospheric details, pathos, humor, and memorable turns of phrase." Kirkus Review, calls it a "well-spun but familiar tale," noting the predictability of story arc. Tallgrass was honored with a Western Writers of America Spur Award.
In 2014, Dallas published her second children's book, Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky as a follow up of sorts to Tallgrass. Red Berries features a twelve-year-old Nisei protagonist who is incarcerated at Tallgrass and incorporates some of the characters from the earlier book.
For More Information
Publisher website: http://us.macmillan.com/tallgrass/sandradallas.
Author website: http://sandradallas.com.
- Publishers Weekly, Feb. 26, 2007, 56; Lesa M. Holstine, Library Journal, Feb. 15, 2007, 109; Robert Saunderson, School Library Journal, Sept. 2007, 228; Kirkus Review, Apr. 3, 2007, accessed on June 15, 2015 at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/sandra-dallas/tallgrass/.