Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Categories: Coming of Age, Historical
In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old spitfire Starla Claudelle runs away from her strict grandmother’s Mississippi home. Starla hasn’t seen her momma since she was three—that’s when Lulu left for Nashville to become a famous singer. Starla’s daddy works on an oil rig in the Gulf, so Mamie, with her tsk-tsk sounds and her bitter refrain of “Lord, give me strength,” is the nearest thing to family Starla has. After being put on restriction yet again for her sassy mouth, Starla is caught sneaking out for the Fourth of July parade. She fears Mamie will make good on her threat to send Starla to reform school, so Starla walks to the outskirts of town, and just keeps walking. . . . If she can get to Nashville and find her momma, then all that she promised will come true: Lulu will be a star. Daddy will come to live in Nashville, too. And her family will be whole and perfect. Walking a lonely country road, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white baby. The trio embarks on a road trip that will change Starla’s life forever. She sees for the first time life as it really is—as she reaches for a dream of how it could one day be.
“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’ve found a new narrator to love. Starla Claudelle is sassy, funny, and adorable. When she teams up with Eula Littleton it’s a match made in literary heaven. What they learn from one another is immeasurable. They both start out a little broken and more than a little naive.
The time period and setting in Whistling Past the Graveyard is a gold mine. 1963 Mississippi was ripe for change and simmering with racial tension. I’ve seen this book compared to To Kill a Mockingbird and I can understand why. Crandall handles the issues of the time with potent sensitivity.
Whistling Past the Graveyard made me laugh and put a lump in my throat more than once. I found it to be charming, powerful, and superbly written.
Get your hands on a copy. Definitely.