In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla is being raised in Mississippi by her paternal grandmother. Starla tries extra hard to be good and looks forward to attending the fair. When her strict grandmother grounds her, Starla decides she’s had enough. In the spur of the moment, she runs away with a dream in her heart. She’ll find her Momma – a “famous singer in Nashville” whom she hasn’t seen since she was three. And her Daddy, who works far away, will come to live with them. They’ll be a family. Along the way, Starla gets into more trouble than she bargained for. But she also finds an unlikely companion in Eula, a kind-hearted black woman with deep emotional scars and a kidnapped white baby.
Whistling Past the Graveyard warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I have little knowledge of the 1960s aside from what I’ve learned in history class. I’ve never been to the South. I’m not feisty, red-haired or outspoken like Starla. I’ve never run away from home. It’s been eight years since I’ve been nine years old. But the best stories manage to embrace the souls of anyone, bring readers into totally different when’s and where’s.
Hailed as a coming-of-age story reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird, Whistling Past the Graveyard stirs emotions. The Southern-accented voice of nine-year-old Starla is endearingly real and infused with personality. It does not hinder the writing style of the author but rather makes it flow. Through Starla’s innocent eyes, we see her journey as something both dangerous and life changing. We understand more than Starla does and that makes us want to protect her all the more. Crandall tells the story realistically. She spares none of the violence, brutality and heartbreaking reality — which may be why it’s classified under Adult Literature/Fiction rather than Children’s.
The characters of Whistling Past the Graveyard are well developed and memorable. Eula, in particular, contains layers and layers of development and emotion. She is just as important to Starla as Starla is to her. Eula teaches Starla things about herself, provides Starla with the love and emotional guidance that her grandmother and mother have neglected to give her. Through her interactions with Eula, Starla sees beyond skin color. Starla’s compassion and strength burns inside of her; she helps heal Eula’s broken heart and soul. In turn, Eula loves her in the way that Starla wishes her own Momma would.
Terrible things threaten Starla’s strength and love for the world. Terrible things like violence, racial tensions, and crushed dreams. But Whistling Past the Graveyard is about hope, compassion and the special gifts one finds in one’s self. Because of the language and graphic violence, I recommend Whistling Past the Graveyard to the YA audience 12+ and adults. 4.5/5
***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review