Whistling Past the Graveyard review

**I was provided a copy of this book by netgalley.com in exchange for my review.

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

From Goodreads: 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: Nine year old Starla lives in the south in the 1960s with her grandmother. Her father works on an oil rig and rarely gets to visit, and her mother left when Starla was three and moved to Nashville to become a singer. When Starla runs away to find her mother, she finds herself in heaps of disastrous situations. Caught in a turbulent time between southern whites and African Americans, Starla learns more about the world, and herself, than she had ever anticipated.

While the story lines in this book at times feel very familiar, the tone, style, and language feel very authentic and original. I liked Starla from page one, and found her spunky, full-of-life attitude entertaining. The dialogue was rich and well-written, though I might have preferred more description of time and place to fill in the stories a bit more. I love that the ending was not all peaches-and-cream, and some works of fiction tend to be. Overall, I would recommend this book to those who enjoyed Secret Life of Bees, The Help, and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. When it is released in the stories I will also be picking up a copy for my students’ historical fiction projects, since its easy, engaging plot will probably appeal to my high school kids.

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