Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

  • Hardcover: 320 pgs.
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (July 2, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1476707723
  • Source: Publisher

My daddy says that when you do somethin’ to distract you from your worstest fears, it’s like whistlin’ past the graveyard. You know, making a racket to keep the scaredness and the ghosts away. He says that’s how we get by sometimes. But it’s not weak, like hiding’…it’s strong. It means you’re able to go on..

Mississippi, 1963: Nine-year-old Starla Claudelle hasn’t seen her mother in six years.  When Starla was just three years old, Lulu left for Nashville to become a famous singer.  Starla’s father works on an oil-rig in the Gulf, so she is under the watchful eye of her grandmother, Mamie. As is quite typical for her age, Starla has a streak of defiance in her and, despite being put on restriction due to mouthing off, she sneaks out to watch the Fourth of July parade. After she is discovered, Starla is fearful for the punishment Mamie is certain to invoke, so she begins walking. Even after she reaches the outskirts of town, she continues to walk. If she can only reach her mother in Nashville, surely she will find salvation.  Once her father learns of her actions, he too will move to Nashville and they will be one big happy family again.

As she is walking down a desolate country road, Starla accepts a ride from a black woman with a white baby. It is this decision that alters her life forever, shedding light on the world outside Starla’s quiet, safe home.  Despite her young age, by the time Starla reaches the end of her long and harrowing journey she has discovered and experienced more than most adults do in a lifetime.

One can’t help but fall for ginger-hair, spitfire Starla Claudelle. She has no qualms with speaking her mind and standing up for what she believes in. Unfortunately, this tends to get her in a great deal of trouble. Raised by her father’s mother, a woman not prepared or meant to raise a young girl, Starla often feels as though she is a forgotten child, a burden to those around her. So certain that her mother has made a life for herself living as a famous singer in Nashville, Starla abandons what is actually a safe and protected home and journeys out into the unknown and unfamiliar South in 1963.  This historical setting plays a key an active role in what transpires with Starla, a white child traveling with a young black woman. Crandall details life in the South without holding back any of the darker, harsher realities of segregation and racial tension.

A harrowing coming-of-age story filled to the brim with tense and terrifying moments, as well as uplifting points of hope and proof of an undying human spirit. Rich with vibrant, memorable characters, Whistling Past the Graveyard is a novel certain to pull at your heartstrings, rooting for young Starla in hopes that the life she imagined, while unrealistic, is in some way attainable. Highly, highly recommended.

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