Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Review: Whistling Past The Graveyard

Whistling Past the GraveyardAuthor: Susan Crandall
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Publisher: Gallery Books

From an award-winning author comes a wise and tender coming-of-age story about a nine-year-old girl who runs away from her Mississippi home in 1963, befriends a lonely woman suffering loss and abuse, and embarks on a life-changing roadtrip.

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.

Gritting my teeth, I snatched the list off the refrigerator. It was worse than Cinderella’s.

While Mamie went to the Fourth Festival, I was Rapunzel in the tower.

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 hidin'... It's strong. It means you're able to go on.

I couldn’t believe my biggest problem this morning had been missing the fireworks. As I looked out that stuck window at the black night, hearing tree frogs and crickets that sounded big as cats, I wished I was back in my hot, sweaty bedroom in Cayuga Springs.

This book takes place in 1963 Mississippi where we meet a young girl named Starla Jane Claudelle. Starla lives with her Mamie while her father is off working at an oil rig and trying to earn enough money to support his family back home. Starla’s mother, Lucinda, left Starla and her father years ago in the hopes of someday becoming famous. Starla has a tendency to get herself put on restriction, usually by sass talking her Mamie. But this year Starla decides she has had enough. Her Mamie does nothing but put her down and try to change everything about her, so Starla decides to run away to Nashville in the hopes of finding her mother. On Starla’s journey she meets Lula, an older African-American woman named Eula that seems to be making quite the escape of her own. This story tells about their adventure together and the bonds that they form along the way.

Starla Jane narrates this entire story for readers, and let me be the first to tell you that the story would just not feel the same without her narration. Starla still has enough innocence about her to make her lovable and sweet, but she also knows enough of the world to understand that she is not really wanted by her Mamie. You cannot put a price on what Starla learns as she travels with Eula and baby James. Starla sees the world as she has never seen it before. This is definitely a coming of age story, and I felt like I got to witness Starla growing up right before my eyes. It is funny how much this road trip matured Starla, and gave her the courage to think for herself. Fans of a spunky heroine will certainly enjoy Starla Jane Claudelle.

As I mentioned earlier, this story is set in 1963 Mississippi so racial lines and tensions were extremely high. I thought to myself at first, how is this story going to go when you have a nine-year-old as the narrator telling about a time in history that will never be forgotten because of all that went on? Susan Crandall knocked this one of the park. This was the fine line that Starla learned all about having to do with love and hate and how people were behaving towards racial conflict in this time. I cannot wait to see what is next for this author!

***A copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Gallery Books in exchange for my honest review***


  1. OH MY this sounds awesome.

    great review
    Aparajita @Le' Grande Codex

  2. I'm finishing this book up now, and I completely agree that it would not be the same story if it wasn't told from Starla's perspective. I had a few issues with the way she talks in the beginning, but I understand that she is young and from the south. Her voice definitely adds some humour, like when she gets words wrong. I can't wait to see how this book ends!