Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall
Hardcover, 320 pages
In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old spitfire Starla Claudelle runs away from her strict grandmother’s Mississippi home. Starla hasn’t seen her momma since she was three—that’s when Lulu left for Nashville to become a famous singer. Starla’s daddy works on an oil rig in the Gulf, so Mamie, with her tsk-tsk sounds and her bitter refrain of “Lord, give me strength,” is the nearest thing to family Starla has. After being put on restriction yet again for her sassy mouth, Starla is caught sneaking out for the Fourth of July parade. She fears Mamie will make good on her threat to send Starla to reform school, so Starla walks to the outskirts of town, and just keeps walking. . . . If she can get to Nashville and find her momma, then all that she promised will come true: Lulu will be a star. Daddy will come to live in Nashville, too. And her family will be whole and perfect. Walking a lonely country road, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white baby. The trio embarks on a road trip that will change Starla’s life forever. She sees for the first time life as it really is—as she reaches for a dream of how it could one day be.
In Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall
by Susan Crandall we meet nine-year-old Starla Claudelle. Starla has lived with her Mamie, her paternal grandmother, since she was three, but she dreams of reuniting with her mother, who is trying to become a famous singer in Nashville. Her father works on an oil rig in the Gulf, so Starla is stuck in Cayuga Springs, Mississippi, where she is always on the brink of being put on restrictions by her strict, curmudgeonly Mamie.
Set in 1963, racial tensions abound in Mississippi. Starla is indifferent to them since she is more concerned with the seemingly impossible task of staying in her grandmother’s good graces. When she fails again and is on restrictions (grounded) for the Fourth of July celebrations, Starla decides to sneak out anyway. When an interfering neighbor catches her, events lead Starla to decide it is time to run away. She takes off, completely unprepared, and plans to hitchhike to Nashville to find her mother.
Once she’s been walking on the road for hours, Starla begins to regret her decision until a black woman, Eula, stops to give her a drink of water and offers her a ride. Starla isn’t the only passenger, as Eula also has a baby, James, with her. Once they stop to spend the night at Eula’s house and her husband is less than thrilled with the guests Eula’s brought home, Starla’s adventures really begin.
Along the way in Whistling Past the Graveyard, Starla learns about segregation and racism first hand. She also learns that love and family can go beyond skin color and heredity.
Starla is a likeable, sassy, head-strong protagonist. Most of the characters and circumstances Starla encounters are very indicative of how a nine- year-old would see people and events: one dimensional, good and bad, black and white. While there are certainly undercurrents of events happening that Starla picks up enough understanding to broaden her own outlook on life, readers will discern more of the truth of exactly what is happening.
The title is obviously taken from whistling when passing a graveyard to keep the ghosts and scarey thoughts away and whistling to get past frightening events is mentioned more than once. It certainly is something a child would pick up on and repeat.
I would think Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall would have a great appeal to those who like stories set in this time period.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Gallery Books via Netgalley for review purposes.