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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Title: Whistling Past the Graveyard
Author: Susan Crandall
Publisher: Gallery Books
Expected Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Source: Netgalley
Length: 320 pages
Editions: print and ecopy

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. -Goodreads


A_TiffyFit's Review
This story is told through the eyes of a very bright, nine year old, red-headed girl named Starla and is about her brave adventure one summer in the South.The way Starla views her surroundings is not only captivating, every little morsel of it, but incredibly intelligent. her reasoning based on what she's been told and what and how she interprets is something quite unusual. For example, having experienced the pecking from the hens who were sitting on and guarding their eggs, she reasoned to herself that "every momma wants her baby," therefore no mother would give her child away. This, of course, refers to not only the kidnapped baby boy, but of herself as well. Unlike what the others had whispered about her mom abandoning her to become a star in Nashville, Starla whole-heartedly believes that her mom would return for her as soon as she has become a famous singer. Things are worse and lonelier of course because her Mamie, her dad's mom and her grandmother, isn't an affectionate woman who'd demonstrate her love, or even care. Rather, the mamie would, at every chance, speak ill of Starla's mom, calling the mom "white trash" and "good for nothing." Starla is constantly hearing these epithets about her mother and being told that her behavior is just like her mother's. And the other person she should be able to depend on to "put food in her belly" and give her "clothes to wear" is her father and he is absent, working on an oil rig. She rarely sees him, not even on big holidays like Christmas.

On the run, mistakenly believing that she will be sent away to juvenile detention, Starla decides to head to Nashville and find her mom. In her young mind, locating her mother will solve all of the problems in her life. What she hadn't counted on were all the matters she inadvertently stumbles upon, one after another, becoming more and more complex.

Starla experiences multiple adversities such as undesired detention, witnesses abuse, even murder. To top it all, as if what she is dealing with in her attempt to reach her mother isn't enough, she witness the ugly prejudiced reality that is just reaching its boiling point within the nation. Not just one-sided, she learns, but being that the whites are the majority (and therefore in control) and is much more up front and violent toward the "negas".

Starla's protector comes in the form of a skinny & petite woman whom Starla says to herself is "strong despite her fragile bones held together by skin." Through Eula, she learns there is a lot more to the world than what she imagined. Some beautiful and good, but some much more ugly and dreadful than she could possibly have imagined.

Amid the ugliest parts, there are the beautiful and memorable moments where Starla and Eula, the woman who just a short while ago was a stranger, form a mother-daughter-like bond, needful heart reaching towards needful heart, demonstrating that love really does know no boundaries. It does not matter to them in the least that Eula is a black woman and Starla is a little white girl; in all senses they become mother and daughter. Their relationship that they form - Starla starved for a mother's love and Eula's desire to fill her heart with the love of a child - is strong and solid, enviable and heart-warming. You cannot help but to cheer for them as they go through all these different life experiences together. I felt as if I were sharing their every moment, anxiously waiting and hoping for the happy ending that they both deserve.

You cannot help but empathize, your heart breaking along with Starla, as her reality comes crashing down upon her hopes of reuniting her "happy" family - mom, dad, grandmother sharing a meal at a table. It is heart ripping.

Although the ending does not exactly turn out as one would hope, it does leave one with a glad heart. One can imagine just what sort of a feisty woman Starla will grow up to be one day. Someone who is just and big hearted, spunky and is always ready to defend the weak from the injustices of the world. Someone we should all aspire to emulate.

Goodreads and Amazon, etc., only allow 5 stars. I'd give it 10 if I could. It's certainly left a mark on my heart, and Starla is a character I will never forget!

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