Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Summary: Whistling past the graveyard. That’s what Daddy called it when you did something to keep your mind off your most worstest fear. . . .

In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla Claudelle runs away from her strict grandmother’s Mississippi home. Starla’s destination is Nashville, where her mother went to become a famous singer, abandoning Starla when she was three. Walking a lonely country road, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white baby. Now, on the road trip that will change her life forever, Starla sees for the first time life as it really is—as she reaches for a dream of how it could one day be. -- Gallery Books

Last month, my book club read WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD by Susan Crandall. I was the hostess for March; and as a result, I was the one who selected this novel and led the discussion. I am such a big fan of Southern fiction and I love coming-of-age stories, so I figured WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD would be an ideal selection. Plus, it didn't hurt that it had some fantastic reviews!

It turns out that I adored WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD, and I think my friends agreed. It was a well-written novel with one very special character, nine-year-old Starla. (Actually, there were quite a few great characters!) I loved this touching story about a young girl's struggle to find her mother; and the themes of racism, friendship, and redemption made it that much more special.

WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD takes place in Mississippi in 1963. Starla, a young girl who lives with her "mean" grandmother dreams of one day finding her mother who left her for a career in Nashville. She heads out on day towards Nashville (or at least the direction she believes is Nashville) and is picked up by Eula, a black woman who is traveling in a run down with a white baby.

Eula and Starla head towards Nashville and have quite an adventure... to say the least. They experience many struggles and have to make some difficult choices. They also learn a lot about themselves and the world around them.

I just loved WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD and it's one of those books that I will be recommending to all of my friends (although many of them already read it with me!) I fell in love with so many of the characters, and I especially loved the lessons in the book about family, love and second chances. The novel both entertained and touched me, and little Starla just captured my heart.

There are lots of wonderful things about WHISTLING WITH THE GRAVEYARD -- from the writing, to the story itself, to the cast of characters, to the setting, to the messages. I could go on and on about each one of these things and probably bore you to death. However, I will focus on just a few. One thing that really stood out to both me and my book club was how interesting we found the story's setting. Of course, we've all read books that take place right before the Civil Rights movement, but I loved that this one showed it to us through the eyes of a nine year old girl. Starla was both naive and yet wise about these times, and I thought her insight into the events was fascinating.

Another thing I loved about this book were the characters, especially Starla. Do I dare say she reminded me a bit of Scout from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? I love coming-of-age stories so it's no surprise that I loved this book given the use of Starla as a narrator. I so appreciated how authentic the author made her voice, and at the same time, I loved seeing the world through her eyes. In addition, Starla grew up so much during her journey with Eula that it was a pleasure to see hints of the young woman she'd become.

And finally, I loved all of the messages and morals in this story. Needless to say, racial relations were a big issue in the story; and I loved the messages that Starla learned about race and respect towards others. I also really liked the lessons that she learned about family and friendship -- sometimes the best families are the ones you choose, not necessarily the ones you are related to! And also I loved the ideas of second chances and redemption!

My book club had a terrific time discussing WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD! As the host, I was thrilled to make some good ole' Southern desserts that were mentioned in the story like Chess Pie and Apple Dapple Cake. There is a reading guide available with fifteen questions; however, we didn't really use it much. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include secrets, race, family, parent/child relationships, ethics, dysfunction, coping mechanisms, forgiveness, redemption, and second chances.

I just adored WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD! Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


Beth Hoffman said...

I really enjoyed this book, too. Terrific review, Julie!

Kim@Time2Read said...

This one sounds really good! I'm adding it to my list!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I don't think I'll ever tire of books like this. They are good for the soul. I'll have to remember it when I need something to warm my heart!

bermudaonion said...

I've had this for a while - it sounds like I need to pick it up soon!

Beth F said...

I too have been wanting to read this. Now I see that I must make the time.