July 15, 2013

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher via NetGalley.

Description: 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.

My Review: I was first drawn to this book by its gorgeous cover art, and then I noticed the author's name. Susan Crandall is a local author whose work I have enjoyed (Seeing Red was my first foray into romantic suspense, and I loved it!). Whistling Past the Graveyard appealed to me because I love coming of age stories set in the south, especially during the Civil Rights era. 

Starla's voice was strong and authentic, and the dialect fit well with the setting and time period. (I had to smile at all the humorous figures of speech as they reminded me of things my mom says: nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, madder than a hornet, etc.). I loved watching Starla grow as a character and learn difficult lessons about life, love, and family. And Eula's story was heartbreaking yet ultimately inspiring.

The plot was fast-moving, and full of suspenseful twists and turns. I wasn't quite sure how the characters were going to get themselves out of the messes they were in, but I thought the ending was perfect.

I recommend Whistling Past the Graveyard to fans of southern stories like The Secret Life of Bees, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, and The Help.


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