Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
I truly enjoyed this book, my favorite character was Eula, there were times Starla would get on my nerves and you just wanted to shake her, but she was young & naïve, abandoned by her mother, raised by a grandmother who is much tougher on her than anyone realizes. She is a sassy little thing and has this idealized idea of her mother who she thinks is a big star in Nashville plus a father who works out on an oil rig and doesn’t come home very often. When Starla gets into trouble she runs away from her Grandmother Mamie’s home to be with her mother, but things don’t go as smoothly as Starla thinks, she is picked up by a black woman, Eula, who is traveling with of all things a white baby (remember this is 1963) Eula promises she will get her to Nashville but they need to stop at her house first and Eula’s husband is none too happy to have two white children in his home, this is when things get a might complicated for Starla & Eula.
The friendship between Eula & Starla is sweet and I loved how much they each learned from each other even when they didn’t realize it, Starla’s eyes were opened to what goes on in the world outside of her little Mississippi town where the only “coloreds” she knows are the help for the rich people in town, but what I liked was with Starla’s naïveté she doesn’t judge Eula on the color of her skin just by her deeds and the size of her heart.
This is a road trip book and these two are on a doozy, and it seems like what could go wrong did go wrong, plus they have a white baby named James along for the ride (again I remind you these 3 are traveling from Mississippi to Nashville in 1963) so you can guess what some of the trouble they run into is. I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say Starla’s daddy hasn’t been all that honest with her about her mamma. As I said before there are times when Starla’s “red rage” (as she calls it) get her into more trouble than she needed to be in and there were times I just wanted to yell Starla NOOOO, but what fun would that book have been?
I highly recommend this book, if you are a fan of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and/or Calling Me Home I would say get this book right now!
4 ½ Stars