Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Whistling Past The Graveyard



Author: Susan Crandall
Type: e-book ARC
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Historical Fiction (American Civil Rights Era)
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
First Line: "My grandmother said she prays for me every day."

Publisher's Description: 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 road trip.

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 ThoughtsThis book had a lot goin' on.  It was a coming of age story, a civil rights story, a story about friendship and it detailed what the term 'family' truly means.  The author taps into the unpredictability and the emotions of the Civil Rights era.  And with her authentic use of the vernacular of the time, helped make her main characters, Starla and Eula, feel very genuine.

Starla was an interesting, likeable and refreshing main character. She had an innocence about her due to her young age and her restrictive upbringing.  She was honest to a fault, at times quite blunt, energetic and fiercely loyal to those she loves.  She also brought a child-like sense of humour that was quite unique ("Feeling as low as skunk's toes").  While she seemed very precocious and a typical nine-year-old, there were a few instances that had me wondering if her thoughts and choice of words were that of an older person, not a nine year old child.

While this book was heart-felt and had many emotional scenes to it, I can't help but feel that the author just touched on some of the events of the time.  I think this feeling stems from the fact that a nine year old narrated the story.  By doing this, it gives the reader a very different, naive and innocent view of the civil rights era.  It's definitely a unique view of the turbulent era but unfortunately it also limited the amount of depth the author could go into while describing the issues of the time.

But, on the other hand, using a child to explore such an emotional and tumultuous time enabled the reader to follow Starla's journey as her eyes are slowly opened to the very real feelings and behaviours between Blacks and Whites of the time.  She begins to see, firsthand, what life is like for Blacks.  She loses her 'rose coloured glasses' and sees her world as it truly is -- a very unfair and tempestuous time.   

It shouldn't come as a surprise that this book was very emotional at times.  The parent in me was on the edge of my seat (and quite emotional) while reading the parts of this book where Starla misinterprets events on her journey - and putting herself in harm's way.  I also felt so bad for this young girl who seemed to not have many people in her corner. She lives in a fantasy of her 'famous mother' coming to save her meanwhile living with a grandmother who can't stand her and an absentee father. She had a quiet desperation about her as she tried to find someone to love her. It's this feeling of needing to be loved that helped make Starla and Eula kindred spirits.

Eula was a character that I didn't like right off the bat.  I didn't trust her at first and I was very frustrated with how she interacted with her husband.  But as the book progresses we see another side to Eula.  Some of her comments about 'gifs' (gifts) and her wisdom about healing oneself are definitely going to stay with me awhile.  I have so many of her quotes highlighted in my Kindle that I plan to go back and read them again and again.

My only wish is that the reader could have seen certain situations from Eula's point of view.  I think this would have added much more depth to her character.  Plus playing off Starla's innocence with what Eula has experienced in her life as a black woman would have given the reader two vastly different perspectives of the same era. 


I have to admit that it was the synopsis of the book, not the title that inspired me to request this book to review.  So, when the author divulged the meaning behind the title I will admit that I had an 'ah ha' moment when it finally made sense to me.  I won't ruin it for those of you who aren't familiar with this saying but I will say that it's something that I used to do as a child but had never heard this saying describing it.

Due to the nicely paced storyline, the uncertainty of the era and the overall feeling that I had for the main characters, I was assuming that I was in for a very emotional ending.  But as I neared the end of the book it felt like the momentum or the energy was lost a bit of its steam.  Everything was tied up a little too neatly at the end leaving it feeling a little disjointed from the rest of the book.  I guess the ending just felt too convenient and easy.

Overall this is a touching, sometimes heart-breaking tale with very unique characters.  But it's also an uplifting tale about family and how 'family' means being with the people you love, not necessarily with those whom you share blood with.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for providing me with this complimentary e-book copy in exchange for my honest review.


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