Tallgrass is a fictional Japanese internment camp during World War II. Tallgrass, the novel, centers less around the camp itself and more about the small (and small-minded) town that surrounds it. Racism and tension run amok, worsening when a local girl is raped and murdered and most of the townspeople believe a prisoner at the camp must be responsible. Told from the viewpoint of thirteen year old Rennie from her family beet farm, the story has multiple layers and dimensions and all the main characters are well-developed.
This is a story of the effects of war – not the fighting, bloodshed aspect of war – but the effects on those back home that, try as they might not to be, are changed by it. This book beautifully covers the narrow-minded racism that can spring up and the importance of those who disagree with this mindset to speak out or in the case of Loyal Stroud, Rennie’s father, to lead by example. Fear and stereotypes threaten to overtake the whole town and Loyal won’t be a part of it, despite backlash and shaming thrust upon him by friends and neighbors.
It’s not hard to do the right thing. That’s the lesson that is taught to Rennie by the actions of her parents, the Japanese-Americans working on her family’s farm on work release from the internment camp and by her own experiences during the life of the camp in her town.
The very end of the book felt a little rushed, like Dallas was up against a deadline that concerned her more than wrapping up the story properly, but the rest is good enough that this is a small issue.