Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Whistling Past the Graveyard ~ Susan Crandall review

Whistling Past the Graveyard
Gallery Books
July 2, 2013
307 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depo/or Amazon

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.

So I love, LOVE this book. I was drawn to it to start with because of the age and gender of the narrator -- I seem to really enjoy novels told from the perspective of young girls, especially period pieces -- as well when its set.

Starla is a superb narrator and a fantastic character. Crandall takes full advantage of the youth and, at times, naivete of her storyteller. Especially given the time and setting of the novel. There's a lot happening in the 1963 South that might not get noticed or, perhaps, commented on by an older narrator or not as astutely as it does by Starla. All of the things that get her in trouble with her Mamie, all of her sassisng, give us readers a fuller story.

Yes, there are things she says, even sometimes to adults, that seem like they might get her in more trouble than they do but it gives better observations on the setting or what she's feeling, experiencing or what's happening than we would get had she been meek and/or respectful.

The racial dynamics, even those Starla's aware of, are very much apart of the novel. Though she's only nine years old, she understands that she's white and what that means for versus someone who's not - at least based on what she's been taught. The author does really well not playing it down, changing it to look better, somehow making it look better, or anything. It's was true so it is.

The relationship between Eula and Starla is real and honest and I just love it. We see so much growth from the both of them. They're both very unique characters who, at the start, are stuck in what the time and society allows for them, but, also, neither of them is quite adhering to what their 'role' is supposed to be.

They're not cookie cutter images of the period, but they're also not so far out of the norm that they don't fit. They're just great, real characters. Who needed each other.

It's being mentioned a lot with The Help and Whistling Past the Graveyard identifies a lot of issues and injustices facing African Americans in the 1960s as well, albeit mostly different ones as the setting is different. Plot wise, however, I think that To Kill a Mockingbird is one that fits better as Starla and Scout seem to be cut from the same cloth.

Starla reminded me, with her her 'sass,' her refusal to be that quiet little girl in the corner of a bit of Scout and also of Teaspoon from How High the Moon by Sandra Kring -- and not just because they all three have fantastic names and great fathers. She's not a character I'll forget soon

Whistling Past the Graveyard's story is absolutely heartbreaking at times, but it's also very uplifting and includes some of my favorite relationships and moments in a book of recent memory.

Rating: 10/10

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