Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

The summer of 1963 begins like any other for nine-year-old Starla Claudelle. Born to teenage parents in Mississippi, Starla is being raised by a strict paternal grandmother, Mamie, whose worst fear is that Starla will turn out like her mother. Starla hasn’t seen her momma since she was three, but is convinced that her mother will keep her promise to take Starla and her daddy to Nashville, where her mother hopes to become a famous singer—and that one day her family will be whole and perfect.

When Starla is grounded on the Fourth of July, she sneaks out to see the parade. After getting caught, Starla’s fear that Mamie will make good on her threats and send her to reform school cause her to panic and run away from home. Once out in the country, Starla is offered a ride by a black woman, Eula, who is traveling with a white baby. She happily accepts a ride, with the ultimate goal of reaching her mother in Nashville.

As the two unlikely companions make their long and sometimes dangerous journey, Starla’s eyes are opened to the harsh realities of 1963 southern segregation. Through talks with Eula, reconnecting with her parents, and encountering a series of surprising misadventures, Starla learns to let go of long-held dreams and realizes family is forged from those who will sacrifice all for you, no matter if bound by blood or by the heart.

Hardcover, 307 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by Gallery Books (first published June 1st 2013)

my copy provided by netgalley for a honest review
 "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 scardeness and the ghosts away.  He says that's how we by sometimes.  But it's not weak, like hidin''s strong.  It means you're able to go on."

What a wonderful coming of age book!  It's 1963 in Mississippi, the realness of segregation is an eye opening experience for 9 year old Starla.  She is spunky, stubborn, she acts before she thinks and it was a delight to get to know her. (she reminded me a little of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird)  There isn't a lot that she wants from life, except her mother and to be loved.

Eula has her own issues also.  The pair begin a journey which gets them into a number of tricky situations.

There is a lot going on in this book.  Relationships mostly take center stage here, whether between grandmother/granddaughter - it's rocky at best and both are at their wits end.  There is father/daughter - with dad working on an oil rig far away, how can there even be a relationship at all?  Then mother/daughter - does Starla find her mother and get the love she so craves?  Well you'll have to read the book for that answer. 

This is my first book by Susan Crandall, she has a wonderful way with words.  Her descriptions were authentic, she brought the emotions and feelings of racial tension to life.   This book will appeal to fans to To Kill a Mockingbird also to those that like coming of age books.

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