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.
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 Thoughts: So here is the thing. I really do like books with child protagonists if the author is able to successfully write the character without imposing adult viewpoints/actions/mannerisms that totally mess with the authenticity of the character's voice. For me they have to contain that innocence-an unblemished view of the world that breathes life into the story. In Whistling Past the Graveyard Susan Crandall tackles the weighty issue of race relations in the deep South during the early 1960's and uses charming and spirited Starla Claudelle to spin an endearing story of adversity, confronting harsh realities, and finding your inner strength.
I was really drawn to this story and particularly the interaction between Starla and Eula, both people who are facing difficult circumstances but find their courage from relying on each other. Eula knows it is dangerous to even be seen with a white girl and a white baby but nevertheless she follows her inner compass that tells her these two need her help and she is determined to do the right thing by them. Eula and Starla encounter many obstacles on the journey to Nashville to locate Starla's mother. Along the way Starla's innocence gives way to the hard truth of reality but by the end of this novel you are rooting for both Starla and Eula to find their happy ending. This book reminded me a lot of The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Although I wasn't sure what to expect when cracking this book open, what I found was a beautifully told story that held my attention from beginning to end. I will definitely be checking out more from this author.
This book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley. These are my honest thoughts on the book.