Susan Crandall’s Whistling Past the Graveyard was a book I wanted to read just from looking at an online description of the book. It features a unique protagonist, a 10 year old girl named Starla Jane Claudelle, who was born to two teenage parents. All she wants is to see her family back together again since her mother left her and her dad when she was only three years old to try to become a famous country singer in Nashville.
In the beginning of the novel, Starla is 9 ½ years old and lives in Cayuga Springs, Alabama, with her maternal grandmother. Her father works out on the Gulf on the oil tankers. She doesn’t have the chance to see him too often. She feels that her grandmother hates her because of the way she is treated by her and how she keeps trying to change Starla into someone she doesn’t want to be. Starla is very much a tomboy and loves hanging out in her fort and spending time with her best friend, Patti Lynn.
She decided to run away on July 4 after she was grounded by her grandmother, Mamie, because she broke the nose of a boy who was picking on a five year old girl. She had then pushed the boy’s mother to the ground. On her way walking out of town, she was offered water by a black woman, Eula, who had a white baby boy in the backseat of her car. At first she refused but was so thirsty by then that she couldn’t say no.
Eula offered to take her to Nashville to find her mother. Along the way she found out more about Eula and how she ended up with the baby. They stopped at the home that Eula shared with her boyfriend, Wallace. He was an alcoholic who was very ill-tempered and yelled at her for bringing home the baby and Starla.
Starla learned that Eula was abused by Wallace and that Eula’s life had been a difficult one. Eula, the baby, and Starla were finally able to escape from Wallace and continue on their journey to Nashville. Along the way they met a woman who was able to provide them with the bus tickets that they would need to get to Nashville.
It was only when they arrived in Nashville did Starla learn the truth about her family and on the way home with her father told him everything that had happened during her time away from home. She had truly grown as a person and learned just how pervasive segregation was in the South during the early 1960s. At times she was even ashamed to be white.
This novel truly opened my eyes to the racial inequalities that existed in the South during this period of time and in some ways continue still today. Starla is a memorable young girl who you feel you can relate to. Although some parts of the novel seemed implausible and at times the book was slow I still relished every moment spent reading this book.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher. It will be published on July 1, 2013.