Whistling Past the Graveyard

( 54 )

Overview

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. ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times bestselling author Karen White
"A coming-of-age story as well as a luminous portrait of courage and the bonds of friendship. . . Susan Crandall tells young Starla’s story with pitch-perfect tone, evoking 1963 Mississippi and its struggles with a deft hand. I laughed and cried at Starla’s keen observances of life and family and the sometimes blurred edges of justice. Like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Whistling Past the Graveyard is destined to become a classic.”
Booklist - Mary Ellen Quinn
It’s not easy to keep such a young narrator convincing for more than 300 pages... Readers will take to Starla and be caught up in her story.
Publishers Weekly
Known for her romantic suspense novels, Crandall takes a fumbling step into book club–style women’s fiction with a derivative, if well-intentioned, Civil Rights–era bildungsroman. Stubborn, sassy, nine-year-old Starla Jane Claudelle lives with her grandmother Mamie in smalltown Mississippi. Her father works on an oil rig and her mother has been absent since Starla was three, seeking her fortune as a singer in Nashville. After a series of misbehaviors, Starla runs away, fearing her grandmother’s discipline and hoping for a reunion with her mother. Along the way, she meets Eula, an African-American woman who has taken custody of a white baby, much to her abusive, alcoholic husband’s dismay. Starla and Eula soon find themselves on the run together, dodging one-dimensional racists and receiving assistance from wise and accepting African-Americans. Starla’s fiery independence makes her a likeable narrator, which compensates somewhat for the underdeveloped adult characters and unbelievable plot points. While Starla’s story lacks the elegance of The Secret Life of Bees or the emotional intensity of The Dry Grass of August, fans of simple feel-good coming-of-age tales set in the 1960s such as Saving CeeCee Honeycutt will enjoy the ride. Agent: Jennifer Schober, Spencerhill. (July)
Working Mother Magazine
“This coming-of-age story is a must for fans of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help or Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Coffee and Crackers
"Inspiring... told with honesty."
New York Timesbestselling author - Karen White
"A coming-of-age story as well as a luminous portrait of courage and the bonds of friendship. . . Susan Crandall tells young Starla’s story with pitch-perfect tone, evoking 1963 Mississippi and its struggles with a deft hand. I laughed and cried at Starla’s keen observances of life and family and the sometimes blurred edges of justice. Like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Whistling Past the Graveyard is destined to become a classic.”"
From the Publisher
"Starla's fiery independence makes her a likable narrator." - Publishers Weekly
"It's not easy to keep such a young narrator convincing for more than 300 pages... Readers will take to Starla and be caught up in her story." - Booklist
"A coming-of-age story as well as a luminous portrait of courage and the bonds of friendship... Susan Crandall tells young Starla's story with pitch-perfect tone, evoking 1963 Mississippi and its struggles with a deft hand. I laughed and cried at Starla's keen observances of life and family and the sometimes blurred edges of justice. Like Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Kathryn Stockett's The Help, Whistling Past the Graveyard is destined to become a classic." - Karen White, New York Times bestselling author
Shape Magazine
“A luminous portrait of courage and the bonds of friendship, this coming of age story is as endearing and spirited as they come.”
BookReporter.com
"WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD is a multi-layered saga that can be enjoyed by teens and adults alike. It has a cinematic quality that will make readers wish for a screen version. And you can’t say better than that."
Shelf Awareness
"A delightfully complex story about defying the odds to find the gifts we have tucked inside us."
Teacher's Choice
"I would recommend this book to those who enjoyed Secret Life of Bees,The Help, and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt."
The Chicago Tribune - Liz Smith
"This is a work of imagination in the mind of a 9-year-old child that might remind you of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird or Kathryn Stockett's The Help... It's a real winner!"
Wilmington Star News
"Worth the hype. Whistling will remind readers of favorite Southern novels, from The Secret Life of Bees to The Help.... [Crandall] is a deft stylist who handles Starla’s first-person dialect with ease."
Library Journal
The child of teenage parents, nine-year-old Starla is being raised by fierce grandmother Mamie, who's worried that Starla will turn out like her no-good mother, off in Nashville trying to become a star. When Starla runs away, worried that she will be punished for an infraction, she's offered a ride by a black woman who's herself on the run. The result: Starla comes to understand what segregation looks like in the Deep South, circa 1963. From a RITA Award winner; another novel pushed at ALA Midwinter.
Kirkus Reviews
Crandall (Sleep No More, 2010, etc.) delivers big with a coming-of-age story set in Mississippi in 1963 and narrated by a precocious 9-year-old. Due in part to tradition, intimidation and Jim Crow laws, segregation is very much ingrained into the Southern lifestyle in 1963. Few white children question these rules, least of all Starla Caudelle, a spunky young girl who lives with her stern, unbending grandmother in Cayuga Springs, Miss., and spends an inordinate amount of time on restriction for her impulsive actions and sassy mouth. Starla's dad works on an oil rig in the Gulf; her mother abandoned the family to seek fame and fortune in Nashville when Starla was 3. In her youthful innocence, Starla's convinced that her mother's now a big singing star, and she dreams of living with her again one day, a day that seems to be coming more quickly than Starla's anticipated. Convinced that her latest infraction is about to land her in reform school, Starla decides she has no recourse but to run away from home and head to Nashville to find her mom. Ill prepared for the long, hot walk and with little concept of time and distance, Starla becomes weak and dehydrated as she trudges along the hot, dusty road. She gladly accepts water and a ride from Eula, a black woman driving an old truck, and finds, to her surprise, that she's not Eula's only passenger. Inside a basket is a young white baby, an infant supposedly abandoned outside a church, whom Eula calls James. Although Eula doesn't intend to drive all the way to Nashville, when she shows up at her home with the two white children, a confrontation with her husband forces her into becoming a part of Starla's journey, and it's this journey that creates strong bonds between the two: They help each other face fears as they each become stronger individuals. Starla learns firsthand about the abuse and scare tactics used to intimidate blacks and the skewed assumption of many whites that blacks are inferior beings. Assisted by a black schoolteacher who shows Eula and Starla unconditional acceptance and kindness, both ultimately learn that love and kinship transcend blood ties and skin color. Young Starla is an endearing character whose spirited observations propel this nicely crafted story.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781476740041
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • Publication date: 2/4/2014
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 22,631
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Crandall is an award-winning women’s fiction, suspense, romance, and mystery author. Her first book, Back Roads, won the RITA award for best first book, as well as two National Reader’s Choice awards. She has released eight more critically acclaimed and award-winning novels. Susan lives in Indiana.

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Read an Excerpt

Whistling Past the Graveyard

July 1963

My grandmother said she prays for me every day. Which was funny, because I’d only ever heard Mamie pray, “Dear Lord, give me strength.” That sure sounded like a prayer for herself—and Mrs. Knopp in Sunday school always said our prayers should only ask for things for others. Once I made the mistake of saying that out loud to Mamie and got slapped into next Tuesday for my sassy mouth. My mouth always worked a whole lot faster than my good sense.

Don’t get the wrong idea, Mamie never put me in the emergency room like Talmadge Metsker’s dad did him (for sure nobody believed the stories about Talmadge being a klutz). Truth be told, Mamie didn’t smack me as often as her face said she thought I needed it; so I reckon she should get credit for tolerance. I heard it often enough: I can be a trial.

I was working real hard at stopping words that were better off swallowed; just like Mamie and my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Jacobi, said I should. I got in trouble plenty at school for being mouthy, too. Most times I was provoked, but Principal Morris didn’t seem to count that as an excuse. Keeping one’s counsel was important for a lady in order to be an acceptable person in society. Not that Daddy and I thought I needed to become a lady, but it meant a lot to Mamie, so Daddy said I had to try.

Anyway, I’d only been about half-successful and had been on restriction twice already since school let out at the end of May. Once for sass. And the second time . . . well, I don’t really count that as my fault. If it wasn’t for a dang rotten board, it never woulda happened.

Out past the edge of town was a haunted house, a big, square thing with porches up and downstairs. It had a strange room stacked on top that was made most all of windows—that’s where people saw the ghost lights on foggy nights. There wasn’t a lick of paint left anywhere on that house, and the shutters had lost most all their teeth. Vines grew through the broken windows on the first floor, snaking around the inside and back up the fireplace chimney. It was hundreds and hundreds of years old, from back in the days of big cotton. I’d been there plenty of times, but I’d never seen a ghost—and I wanted to see a ghost almost as much as I wanted a record player. I figured my problem was I’d always been there in the daytime. What kinda ghost would be out in broad daylight? So I got me a plan. After Mamie went to bed, I snuck out, rode my bicycle out there to see my ghost, planning to be back in bed long before she woke up. I pedaled as fast as I could and had been all sweaty and out of breath, and my legs almost too shaky to climb the front steps, by the time I got there.

I hadn’t been inside that house more than a minute, not near long enough for a ghost to get interested in me, when I stepped on that rotten board. One leg shot through to the basement. I kicked and pushed and hollered, but there wasn’t no getting out. It was the middle of the morning the next day when the police found me. Mamie was madder than I’d ever seen her . . . and that’s saying something. I got restriction and the belt and my bicycle taken away for the rest of the summer. It’d been worth it if I’d seen my ghost. I reckon all my hollerin’ and kickin’ had kept it away.

I’d been off restriction for over a week. The Fourth of July parade and fireworks was coming up the next day, the best part of the whole summer—other than Daddy’s visits home, which were almost as scarce as holidays. He worked down in the Gulf on an oil rig ’cause all the jobs in Cayuga Springs didn’t pay as good. We had to talk with letters ’cause there wasn’t a phone out there in the ocean. Sometimes he called from Biloxi when he got a weekend off, but that was long-distance and cost a lot of money so we had to talk fast, and Mamie hogged the phone telling him all sorts of stuff I know he didn’t care about. I did most of the letter talking between me and Daddy; he wasn’t much of a letter writer. But he liked mine and said they always made him smile, so I wrote a lot.

On July 3 I woke up with bees in my belly. As I put on my white Levi’s shorts and tied my Red Ball Jets, I promised myself I wouldn’t sass or do anything to make Mamie need to say a prayer. I couldn’t risk missing everything—and that’s what Mamie’d do, she’d ground me ’cause she knew that would hurt way more than a wallop. Mamie always knew what punishment I most dreaded. It was like she could see inside my head.

If I got in trouble now, I’d have to wait a whole nother year for fireworks.

I took extra care in making my bed just right; I even made hospital corners on the bottom sheet. I zipped my pj’s into the Tinker Bell pajama bag that Daddy gave me two Christmases ago and set it just so against my pillow, nice and neat. I even picked up the dirty sock I’d dropped last night on the way to the hamper instead of kickin’ it under my dresser with the others that Mamie thought the washer had eaten.

Then I stood back and tried to look at my room through Mamie’s squinty, work-checking eyes.

A-okay.

I felt good as I headed down to the kitchen, sure that she wouldn’t find nothing wrong with my room today.

Through the screen door I saw her hanging a load of our pink bath towels on the line that ran from the back of the house to the corner of the garage. She had two clothespins in her mouth, her lipstick making a bright red O around them. She had on a yellow dress and flat canvas shoes that matched. Even this early with no one but me and the squirrel in the backyard tree to see, Mamie took care about her appearance. She was always looking at magazine pictures of Jackie Kennedy and trying to fix herself up like her—Mamie even got a new haircut last year. Worryin’ ’bout how I looked was one part of being a lady I wasn’t looking forward to. Thank goodness I was only nine and a half and still had some time left.

With a quick glance to make sure Mamie was still busy pegging towels, I opened the bottom cabinet door and stepped on the shelf. Why she expected me to fetch the step stool all the way from the utility room every time I needed something from the top cupboard, when the shelf on the bottom worked just fine, was one of Egypt’s mysteries. I got down my favorite bowl, Daddy’s from when he was a kid; the picture on the bottom had faded so much you could barely see the cowboy and his lasso anymore.

I poured myself a bowl of Sugar Frosted Flakes—they’re grrrrrreat!—and before I even got a spoonful to my mouth, Mamie come in the back door and said, “Good morning, Jane.”

The spoon stopped halfway to my face; milk ran over the edge and dripped onto the table. “Starla,” I said through pinched lips, but was careful not to look up at her ’cause she was sure to think I had on what she called my defiant face.

“We agreed yesterday to start callin’ you by your middle name,” Mamie said just as if it was the honest truth. “It’s so much more suitable for a young lady.”

We hadn’t agreed. Mamie agreed. I just stopped disagreeing.

I started to say that out loud, then remembered my self-promise not to sass.

“It’s high time for you to start thinking about how the world looks at you,” she said. “Your name is one of the first things people know.” Mamie was real concerned over what people know about us. She stood up real straight and stuck out her hand like she was going to shake hands with an invisible somebody standing beside the sink. Then in a prissy, high voice she said, “ ‘How do you do? I’m Jane Claudelle.’ ” She switched back to her normal Mamie voice. “See how nice that sounds. Starla makes people think of a trailer park”—she flipped her hand in the air—“just sittin’ there waiting for the next tornado.” Mamie had a real thing against trailer parks. We weren’t rich, couldn’t even afford help like the LeCounts next door, but Mamie liked to make sure I remembered there was folks out there who had less than us.

Fireworks. Fireworks. Remember the fireworks.

I shoved the Frosted Flakes in my mouth to keep all the words spinning around in my head from shootin’ out.

Truth be told, no matter how hard Mamie tried to make me agree, I’d never give up the only thing my momma gave me before she went away—the only thing left since Mamie burned Mr. Wiggles with the Wednesday trash the last week of third grade anyway. She said he was “too filthy for human contact.” I know nine-going-on-ten was too old for stuffed animals, but it still felt wrong going to bed without him.

“Daddy likes my name,” I said after I swallowed. Mamie liked everything about Daddy, so that couldn’t be considered sass . . . could it?

Mamie huffed. “Porter let Lucinda have anything she wanted—and see what it got him.” The way she was looking at me made me think I was what he got and he’d be a whole lot better off without me. But I was Daddy’s girl; he’d be lost without me.

“Lucinda—” Mamie started.

“Lulu.” The word was out of my mouth before my mind could grab ahold of it. All the sudden, I felt like I was sliding on ice, arms flailin’, about to fall flat. Lulu had told me not to tell.

“What?” Mamie’s head turned and her brown eyes stared at me.

I’d started it. If I clammed up now, it’d be even worse. I dunked a flake floating in the milk with my spoon, staring at it as it popped right back up. “She wants to be called Lulu,” I said real quiet, not sassy at all.

“Since when?” Mamie’s red lips pinched together.

“She said so in my last birthday card.” My birthday cards from Lulu was private, even Daddy wouldn’t let Mamie snoop in them.

“Certainly not by her own child!”

“Now that I’m gettin’ so grown up, she said it’d be better for her career if people think we’re sisters.”

“Career my—” Mamie snapped her mouth shut like she did when she wanted to yell at me in the grocery store but couldn’t because we was in public. “What will people think, you talkin’ like that? You call her Mother or Momma, or I’ll get out the soap.” She sighed. “Lulu, dear Lord, give me strength.”

I bit my tongue and slid out of my seat.

Real quick, I washed my bowl and spoon and set them in the drainer, all the while the pressure was buildin’ up inside me, like it always did before I did something that got me in trouble. Lulu was gonna be famous, that’s the only reason she left me and Daddy when I was just a baby. People around here were so jealous . . . so was Mamie, that’s why she always looked so sour whenever Lulu’s name come up. Lulu was gonna be famous all right, and then she’d come back and get me and Daddy. We were gonna live in a big house in Nashville with horses and whatnot, and Mamie would have to stay stuck here in Cayuga Springs all by her hateful self.

Just before I went out the back screen door, I turned around and looked at Mamie. I was real proud when I kept my voice respectful. “My name is Starla. Not Jane.”

Then I run out the back screen before she could say anything else. I heard it slam behind me, but kept running around the corner of the house.

I was real surprised not to hear Mamie hollerin’ for me to come back.

I decided to spend some time in my fort, just to stay out of Mamie’s sight so I wouldn’t fall into getting in trouble. Course my fort wasn’t really a fort, but a giant, waxy-leafed magnolia in our side yard. Mamie said it was almost a hundred years old. Back before I knew people weren’t as old as I thought they were, I asked if she remembered when it sprouted. She’d scrunched up her face like she was gonna be mad before she laughed and told me she was only forty-two years old, too young to even be a grandmother of a six-year-old.

Anyway, the tree. The branches go clean down to the ground and there’s just enough space for me to get inside. Nobody can see me. I keep Daddy’s old Howdy Doody lunch box in there with stuff I don’t want Mamie to stick her nosy nose into—mostly stuff that belonged to my momma and whatnot. I’d even found two pictures of her in a drawer in Daddy’s room. Mamie kept everything in there just the same as it had been when Daddy’d been growing up. I wasn’t even supposed to go inside, even though Daddy had told Mamie I could have his room ’cause it was bigger and he wasn’t hardly ever here. Mamie had told Daddy she’d think about it, but that was a lie. When I asked her when I’d be able to change rooms, she’d looked at me with those hateful eyes she gets and said, “Never.” Now I sneak in there and sleep at night sometimes, even though I never even wanted to before. What with Mamie’s bedroom being downstairs, she never even knew. I was always careful not to leave clues.

I opened the lunch box and pulled out the birthday cards from Lulu—one for every year except for when I turned six; that one must have got lost in the mail.

I laid on my back and read them, tracing my finger over the big, loopy L in Love you and the little x’s and o’s that were kisses and hugs sent through the mail. I spent some time thinking about Momma—Lulu recording her songs up in Nashville, getting famous. The memory of her was worn and fuzzy on the edges, since I hadn’t seen her since I was three. But I know I have the exact same color of red hair, so that’s the brightest spot in the picture I kept in my head.

Back when Momma and Daddy and me all lived together, I remember liking to twist her hair around my finger while she held me on her hip. I loved the way it felt soft and slippery, like the satin edge of my blanket. Momma didn’t like it though, ’cause she’d spent a long time getting it to look just right and I messed it up. I remember her and Daddy getting in a fight once when she smacked my hand away. It was all my fault, and I’d felt bad. When we all got to live together again, I’d be careful not to cause any fights. I put away the birthday cards and closed the lunch box. Then I just laid there for a spell, watching light dance with shadows and thinking about what I was gonna name my horse. By 10:32—I knew the time exactly ’cause Daddy had given me a really neat Timex with a black leather band for Christmas—it was already about a thousand degrees out. The brick street out front looked like it was wiggling from the heat. Dogs had already crawled under porches and into garages to get out of the hot sun. They would come out after sunset with cobwebs on their noses and dirt clinging to their coats like powdered sugar.

Wish I had a dog.

One like Lassie.

She’d follow me everywhere. I was thinking on how she coulda gone to get help when I fell through the floor in the haunted house when I heard clack-clack-chhhhhh, chhhhhhh, chhhhhhh, chhhhhh, clack-chhhhhh chhhhhh-clack. I knew who was coming, wearing the metal, clamp-on skates she’d just got for her fifth birthday—Priscilla Panichelli. I called her Prissy Pants. She wore dresses with cancan slips and patent leather shoes every ding-dong day. She wasn’t even gonna have to work at changing into a lady when her time came.

I was kinda surprised she’d risk getting those shoes all scuffed; skating on our broken-up sidewalk was dangerous business—which accounted for the clacks. I bet her big brother, Frankie, who was in my grade and called her way worse things than Prissy Pants, had made it a dare.

I moved so I was behind the tree trunk and held real still, just in case. Besides dressing like a doll, Prissy Pants could be a real pain in the behind with her goody-two-shoes, tattletale ways.

Then I heard trouble. A bicycle was coming fast with a card clappin’ against the spokes. It meant only one thing: Jimmy Sellers, turd of the century. Jimmy was gonna be a hood, anybody could see that. But Mamie, and truth be told a lot of the other old people on our street, thought he was a “nice, polite Christian boy” ’cause he was a real brownnoser, too.

Prissy Pants was like a lightning rod to Jimmy’s thunderbolt. She was just too shiny and clean to not try and mess up—even though it always seemed like an accident.

As I said, I had no warm place in my own heart for Prissy Pants, but Jimmy was twelve, almost a grown-up. Him picking on her was just . . . wrong.

I held my breath and hoped that bicycle would buzz right on by.

Chhhhhh-clack-clack. Silence.

Prissy Pants must have seen Jimmy.

The card slapped the spokes just a little faster, and I thought trouble would just keep rolling down the street. I moved around the trunk and peeked out just in time to see Jimmy’s bike jump the curb and head right for Priscilla.

She stood there in front of the LeCounts’ house like a possum staring at a Buick.

Jimmy pedaled faster.

I jumped out of my fort, too far away to do nothin’ but hold my breath.

At the very last second, he cut the handlebars and swerved around her. Priscilla jerked backward and fell flat on her flouncy heinie. One of her skates come loose from her shoe and hung from her ankle by the leather strap—she wouldn’t need that skate key hanging around her neck to get that one off.

She squealed, then started a real-tears cry, not her usual just-for-that-I’m-gonna-get-you-in-trouble cry.

Jimmy swooped in a circle and come back around. He stopped his bike and looked down at her. “Gosh, looks like you’d better practice some more with them skates.”

Prissy just cried louder and used her key to loosen her other skate.

I got what Daddy calls my “red rage.” I was hot and cold at the same time. My nose and ears and fingertips tingled and I couldn’t breathe.

I run down the block and grabbed his handlebars, jerking them to the side. Instead of making Jimmy fall down, he just let the bike go and stepped over it as it fell into the grass beside the walk.

“Go back to your tree, shitbird.” Jimmy shoved my shoulder.

“Shitbird!” I swung. His nose popped.

The blood hadn’t even touched his top lip when I heard Mamie yell, “Starla Jane Claudelle!”

Good-bye, fireworks.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 54 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 54 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 5, 2013

    Oh my gosh¿just, wow. This book was way better than I expected i

    Oh my gosh…just, wow. This book was way better than I expected it would be. If you’ve read and enjoyed Kathryn Stockett’s The Help or Julie Kibler’s Calling Me Home, you definitely want to read this gem.

    It starts off a little slow but picks up speed once Starla runs away from home and meets Eula, who stole a white baby. From there on out the story takes one unexpected turn after another. The only similarities between The Help and this heartrending novel are the era in which the story plays out, it being in Mississippi, and racial barriers and tension between colored and white people. Everything else is completely new and focuses on the developing love and friendship between Eula, an abused colored woman who longs to have children of her own, and an almost-ten-year-old white girl, Starla, who longs for her mother and father to be together so she can have a family of her own.

    “Here’s the thing ‘bout gif’s.” Eula stopped buttering her toast and looked straight at me. “A body don’t know how many the good Lord tucked inside them until the time is right. I reckon a person could go a whole life and not know. That why you gotta try lots of things, many as you can…experiment.”

    The inseparable bonds and relationship that develops between Eula and Starla is the stuff compelling novels that leaves a hole in your heart are made of. It was so easy to relate to both these characters in different ways, and served as an eye-opener of what life must’ve been like in the 1960s. Both Eula and Starla are endearing characters and by the time I got to the last page, I knew I would be thinking about these two exceptional women for a long time. Both of them learned something from the other about life, love, sacrifices, friendship, hope and forgiveness. It’s an unforgettable journey the reader takes alongside them, but be warned, it’s one that will move you deeply. I laughed with them, I cried with them and there were many times I feared for their safety. What got to me most, though, were how they were treated by some folks, and that served as a reminder that prejudice isn’t limited to color only.

    The author sketches 1963 Mississippi realistically, not withholding any of the unpleasant happenings of that time. It’s a story that showcases both sides of human nature and reiterates that despite the color of our skin, we all have the same needs and desires. Everyone wants to be loved, right? The ending was lovely and I was wholly satisfied with how things turned out for both these magnificently smart, strong, but oftentimes vulnerable, characters. At the heart of it, Whistling Past the Graveyard is testament to how we define ourselves in different settings and how love – be it from friendship, family or something more intimate - can cross any boundary.  This is a highly satisfying read which I believe will find a front row seat on many bookshelves.

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 15, 2013

    Where to start? First off, be prepared for a rave; I thought th

    Where to start? First off, be prepared for a rave; I thought this one was FABulous!

    A quick note: This one has been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird and The Help. While it WAS great, I can definitely say that it seems lighter than those two books - not as complex or layered, but it DOES address many of the same issues in the voice of Starla, a precocious, sassy 9 1/2-year-old (remember, that 1/2 really matters at that age).

    First lines:

    My grandmother said she prays for me every day. Which was funny, because I'd only ever hard Mamie pray, "Dear Lord, give me strength." That sure sounded like a prayer for herself - and Mrs. Knopp in Sunday school always said our prayers should only ask for things for others. Once I made the mistake of saying that out loud to Mamie and got slapped into next Tuesday for my sassy mouth.

    It is 1963 in Cayuga Springs, Mississippi. Starla is being raised by her maternal grandmother "Mamie", who is 45 years old and seems to resent having her around. Mamie's biggest fear is that Starla will turn out like her mother Lulu, who has been in Nashville, working on a recording career, since Starla was three years old. Her father works further down South on an oil rig, so Starla only sees him sporadically.

    When Starla sticks up for a girl she doesn't even really like, she finds herself in trouble AGAIN .. grounded ... on one of the best days of the year - the Fourth of July. When she sneaks out anyway, she runs into a nosy neighbor and things get worse from there.

    Starla takes it into her head to run away and find her mother in Nashville. Her mom will be so happy to see her that she'll let her stay, and her daddy will come join them, and they will be a family again. So she starts walking ... and walking .. and walking .. until she is picked up by a black woman named Eula who, strangely, has a white baby with her.

    Thus begins Starla's journey into a world that she didn't know existed. On her journey, she finds herself and others in dangerous situations, discovers the true meaning of family and friendship, and begins to glean an understanding of civil rights and the effect of segregation. Never having experienced true poverty, she is astonished to find that not everyone has electricity and running water, and as she discovers Eula's history, she begins to get an idea of true injustice.

    Starla's voice is utterly believable. Like any child her age, things are pretty much black and white (until they're not). As you travel with her, be prepared for the good and the bad, for laughter and tears, for heart-stopping situations as well as heart-warming ones. This sassy little protagonist will convince you of the truths of her story - you should definitely go along for the ride with her.

    QUOTES:

    Everybody in Cayuga Springs treated my momma like a secret. But it seemed like I was the only person they wanted to keep the secret from. Sometimes when Mamie had bridge club in the summer, I'd sit below the living-room window outside and listen. The ladies had plenty to say about Momma, all right. Hateful things. Lies. They squeezed them in between their bids and trumps, like it was part of the game.

    That kind of crazy liked to hide behind a mask and you never knew when it was gonna come out.

    "Oh, child, the law wouldn't do nothin'. A white man can do pretty much whatever he wants to a colored woman and a little girl - even if the little girl is white. It the way things are round here."

    Once when I was in first grade, Patti Lynn and me was talking to each other across the aisle just by movin' our lips, not even makin' a whisper. Mrs. Kessler heard our lips movin'. She made us both stand at the front of the class until recess. Teacher hearing was as good as Superman's.

    BLOGGERS: Have you reviewed this book? If so, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section; I will also add your link to the body of my review.

    Writing: 5 out of 5 stars
    Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
    Characters: 5 out of 5 stars
    Reading Immersion: 5 out 5 stars

    BOOK RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

    Sensitive Reader: No real worries. There are some ticklish spots - domestic violence is depicted, and some situations have sensitive overtones.

    Book Club Recommendation: Definitely yes! What fun! I can see the discussions now!

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2013

    Bartender Rating: Top Shelf, I became one with this book and can

    Bartender Rating: Top Shelf, I became one with this book and can't wait to see it as a movie. It's a gift., July 2, 2013

    This and more reviews available at The Book Bar.co

    I was initially taken with this book's cover art and title. I mean who `whistles past a graveyard'? It had me really intrigued. The synopsis doesn't do this book justice. There is action and drama not just a little girl hitching a ride from a stranger.
    Starla starts her adventure as a child and comes out with more experience than most adults face in their lifetime. Young and immune to the political and social strife going on around her, she sees her own life unjustly filled with roadblocks. Starla is made to believe that her momma left her young family to become a famous singer while her daddy tries to make ends meet on an oil rigg. Left to raise the young girl is her grandmother, Mamie. Mamie, her father's mother, is a horrible woman that doesn't know how to raise a girl who doesn't know how to be a girl when there is no positive influence for her to look up to.

    Truth be told, Mamie didn't smack me as often as her face said she thought I needed it; so I reckon she should get credit for tolerance. I heard it often enough: I can be a trial.... I was working real hard at stopping words that were better off swallowed.
    Crandall, Susan. Whistling Past the Graveyard. Gallery Books. Expected publication: July 2nd 2013. Kindle Edition.

    I hated Mamie immediately. Not because of the punishments she would dole out to Starla for any reason, but because she convinced Starla into thinking she was a mistake and a burden to everyone around her. Starla tried to stay as strong as a little girl could, but the breaking point had been playing out in her mind for awhile; run away to find Momma in Nashville.

    I got what Daddy calls my "red rage." I was hot and cold at the same time. My nose and ears and fingertips tingled and I couldn't breathe.
    Crandall, Susan. Whistling Past the Graveyard. Gallery Books. Expected publication: July 2nd 2013. Kindle Edition.

    Starla's real adventure begins when she takes off, on foot, for Nashville, from her home in Mississippi. Eula, a black woman, befriends Starla and they hit it off nicely. I love how Starla is always thinking of others when the situation becomes dire. She believes in the light at the end of the tunnel and that her momma is the answer to everything wrong around her.

    If I could get me out of here, I could tell Lulu when I got to Nashville that there's a baby been kidnapped. Maybe she could make a nonymous call to the law like they do on TV. I sure couldn't call; they was looking for a little girl who'd attacked Mrs. Sellers. They'd be sure to put two and two together, 'cause all adults can do that.
    Crandall, Susan. Whistling Past the Graveyard. Gallery Books. Expected publication: July 2nd 2013. Kindle Edition.

    Susan Crandall does a wonderful job reminding you that Starla is just a little girl who misses her momma. The diction in the book and internal thoughts of Starla are age appropriate and you feel, heart and soul, for this little girl. Starla wants to portray herself as big and tough, but deep down, she is just looking for someone that wants her.

    And right that minute I understood; there was something broke deep inside Eula. Like maybe she hadn't been able to feel right in her world the same way I never felt right in mine-her without a baby and me without a momma. And I wondered if baby James could fix her.... No. Not in this world. Nothing good could come of a colored woman and a white baby. Wallace knew it, sure as day. He'd called her stupid but she wasn't stupid. She was just empty. Empty and needing a baby to fill her up. I crawled over behind her and rested my cheek against her back. Her bones was sharp under her skin. Her humming vibrated in my head.
    Crandall, Susan. Whistling Past the Graveyard. Gallery Books. Expected publication: July 2nd 2013. Kindle Edition.

    Starla is always trying to protect those she cares for the best way kids know how, most involve far fetched stories. So many times I believed that Starla's story would work but every time an adult character would call her out on her lie. That's when I knew that becoming one with the Starla character was so easy.

    I watched the trees, cotton fields, and crooked, tin-roofed shanties go by, chewing on my thumbnail, sorting out the details of my plan. Everybody knows the details color your words truth or lie, so I had to get them straight and keep them straight.
    Crandall, Susan. Whistling Past the Graveyard. Gallery Books. Expected publication: July 2nd 2013. Kindle Edition.

    Whistling Past the Graveyard also has lots of heart stopping action. A near death experience with a mad man, a slow drive to Tennessee with a shell of a woman, who happens to be black with a white baby, anxiety every time they are approached by both white and black people. The fantastic details put you there in Starla's shoes. You feel helpless and angry at the world. Sometimes you want to give up, but the storyline never sways and you keep going to find out how Starla's story ends.

    This book is a must read for young and old alike. I can't wait to see the trailer announcing it's motion picture production. I am sure Crandall's depiction of the surroundings will be marvelous on a big screen.

    More beautiful excerpts:

    Another board thumped up on the window. The room was getting darker fast. And the rest of the world farther away. I was gonna spend the rest of my life locked up in this breathless room. No one would ever know what happened to me. I'd grow up. I'd never get a record player. I'd never get to work as a curb girl at the drive-in. When I opened my eyes, I kept them on a gouge in the linoleum, the only thing that didn't have power over me.
    Crandall, Susan. Whistling Past the Graveyard. Gallery Books. Expected publication: July 2nd 2013. Kindle Edition.

    Miss Cyrena reached over and touched her arm. "I know you didn't see the violence and need for control in him in the beginning, but I'm sure it was there. Nothing you did turned him into such an abusive man. And you...well, you just didn't see your own value before that. It's an easy thing for a woman to overlook. We're taught from the cradle that men rule."

    "We're all victims of our lives. Things happen that can ruin us if we hold them in . Tell us. You need to let it out so you can be strong again."

    "My daddy says that when you do somethin' to distract you from your worstest fears, it's like whistlin' past the graveyard. You know, making a racket to keep the scaredness and the ghosts away. He says that's how we get by sometimes. But it's not weak, like hiding'...it's strong. It means you're able to go on."

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2014

    270 pages, set in 1963, main character an almost ten year old girl.

    This book cost $4.99. It has 270 pages and was very well edited. An almost ten year old girl was the main character in this book set in the deep south in 1963. I did not know what to expect when I purchased this book. The reviews seemed to be either love it or hate it, with no middle road. I was looking for something different to read and this general fiction book appeared interesting, so I took a chance. I am very glad I did as I think this is one of the better books I have read in a long time. Not on a par with " To Kill a Mockingbird " by Harper Lee, nor as realistic as "The Help" it is still an absolutely, amazing book. Starla at times, was the perfect imbodiment of an almost ten year old and at other times, she was like an experienced, educated, grown up, woman of the world. This is my only complaint about this book. I was 8 years old in 1963 and I remember all the events in this book and how life was during the civil rights era. I lived in Little Rock, Arkansas at the time and segragation will always be a blight on American history. It was a scary time. This book made me rember how things used to be, I laughed, cried and got knots in my stomach. There was love, tenderness, suspense and the good and bad in people was perfectly described. This book had a lot of violence, a murder, kidnapping, child, spousal and animal abuse, rape, out of wedlock children, prejudices against African Americans, no romance, no cursing and human cruelty. I really enjoyed this book and think all young people ages 14 and up should read this book. I will read more by this author. I archived this one. This is not a mystery, suspense, thriller or chick lit. It is just about the perfect read though.

    AD

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2013

    Super Read

    Great entertainment. Well written, funny, sad, endearing and if you
    lived during that time in the South, real!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 13, 2013

    I was first drawn to this book by its gorgeous cover art, and th

    I was first drawn to this book by its gorgeous cover art, and then I noticed the author's name. Susan Crandall is a local author whose work I have enjoyed (Seeing Red was my first foray into romantic suspense, and I thoroughly enjoyed it). Whistling Past the Graveyard appealed to me because I love coming of age stories set in the south, especially during the Civil Rights era. 
    Starla's voice was strong and authentic, and the dialect fit well with the setting and time period. (I had to smile at all the humorous figures of speech as they reminded me of things my mom says: nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, madder than a hornet, etc.). I loved watching Starla grow as a character and learn difficult lessons about life, love, and family. And Eula's story was heartbreaking yet ultimately inspiring.
    The plot was fast-moving, and full of suspenseful twists and turns. I wasn't quite sure how the characters were going to get themselves out of the messes they were in, but I thought the ending was perfect.
    I recommend Whistling Past the Graveyard to fans of southern stories like The Secret Life of Bees, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, and The Help.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 11, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    What a great book. I loved it. It is one of the greatest books

    What a great book. I loved it. It is one of the greatest books I have read. Kudos to the author. It was just as good as the great book, The Help. This is a must read for everyone

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2014

    Okay

    This book was okay i guess. It was a quick read, sort of like a cross between the secret life of bees (which i really liked) and the help (meh). I found it to be a little unrealistic, though, especially the ending. The main character is only 9, but she got on my last nerve quite a few times in the book, unable to listen at all and causing all types of unnecessary trouble. Can't say i hated it, but not one if the best books ive read either.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 26, 2014

    I could not put this book down and finished it in less than a da

    I could not put this book down and finished it in less than a day.  Wonderful from beginning to end.  I plan to read all of this author's books and hope they are all as eye opening, suspenseful, heart warming and just all around enjoyable.  I am anxious to recommend this book to others.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2013

    Awesome read!

    I enjoyed reading this book much more than i anticipated I would. A charming story through the eyes of a child skirting through very difficult issues from that era, the author brings you in and makes you a very real part of Starla's journey. I now have to search for other books by this author in hopes that her other books are just as captivating!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 14, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Full of southern charm - the prose is delightful for those who e

    Full of southern charm - the prose is delightful for those who enjoy Southern dialect. Just like the southern phrase 'bless your heart' is often an expression of pity at someone's idiocy, this story presents some shady subjects wrapped up in a light, almost playful, prose.

    None of the characters felt stable to me; I questioned the sincerity of their transformations through the whole story. At the same time, this is an element that made the characters realistic as they bumbled from one conflict to the next.

    Starla's relationship with her grandmother, Mamie, isn't fully resolved at the end of the story. A good book is supposed to leave the reader imagining what-happens-next but, in this case, the story doesn't feel complete to me. I received a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for a review and I have no idea if a sequel is planned - but I want one. I want to know where all the characters wind up a few years down the road.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2013

    One of the best I have read in a while! 

    One of the best I have read in a while! 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2013

    Good read

    Just a good coming of age story in the turbulent South of the 1960s.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2013

    Highly Recommend

    I really loved this book. It was well written and the story was amazing. I am hoping to read more by this author just because I enjoyed this book so much.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 19, 2013

    I absolutely loved this book. Didn't want it to end. The chara

    I absolutely loved this book. Didn't want it to end. The characters were all so amazing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 14, 2013

    A MUST read!

    Delightful! If you like "To Kill a Mockingbird" you will really enjoy this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2013

    Highly recomend it. It was a great book club pick

    Great book could not put it down, if you liked The Help you will love this one. Charactors are real and well developed. The story line catches you and does not let go. I give it 5 stars and my personel rating What A Book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2013

    Wonderful story

    Endearing characters and great story

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2013

    Really enjoying it

    First of all, I NEVER write reviews; however, I just wanted to say a word or two about this book. I have not finished it yet, but I highly recommend it. So far it's had my heart racing in a part I was not expecting and "itching" to turn the page to see what happens next. Two thumbs up! (I gave it four stars instead of five since I haven't finished it yet)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2013

    Great book! It was much better than I thought it would be. It's

    Great book! It was much better than I thought it would be. It's a little slow at first, but it picks up and then you can't put it down. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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