Published by Gallery Books on 2 July 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction
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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 daddy always said being brave wasn’t not being scared. Being brave was keeping going when you were.”
Although I don’t usually like comparing one book to the other (especially when it is a classic) Whistling Past the Graveyard reminded me a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird. Whoa! Those are big shoes to fill. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all time favourite novels, and for anything to even come near to it is quite exceptional.
Starla Claudelle lives with her grandmother (Mamie) in Cayuga Springs, Mississippi in 1963. Despite Mamie’s best efforts to turn her into a lady, Starla insists on maintaining her tomboy ways. After sneaking out on the Fourth of July, there is an incident that has Starla convinced she is wanted by the law. Considering she has never felt loved by her grandmother and her father works for long periods on an oil rig, she decides to run away to live with her mother; a famous singer in Nashville.
So begins Starla’s long journey through the Deep South to find a mother she hardly remembers. Her path is fraught with dangers, but along the way she encounters Eula; an African American woman who has a tragic past of her own. Together, the unlikely pair navigates a country ripe with racial tensions and political upheaval, as Starla discovers the injustice of her world and realises that family can come in any shape and any colour.
Starla is a wonderful narrator. Although she is mostly naïve about the political situation in the South, she has an innate sense of right and wrong and fights for those she loves. If Starla is the voice of the novel, then Eula is the heart. Although she makes some bad decisions, her intentions are always pure.
Crandall’s writing is effortless and heartfelt. The plot moves quickly and as the characters develop you fall more in love with them.
I really enjoyed this novel. And while it doesn’t quite live up to the legendary classic that is To Kill a Mockingbird, it is pretty darn close.
– You won’t be disappointed