Whistling Past the Graveyard
Genre: Historical Fiction
Summary (from Goodreads): 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.
Marcie's Review: It took me a while to get into this book; I wasn't sure I enjoyed Starla's voice, and I felt like too many things were happening without getting a good understanding of the characters. But about a third of the way into it, the book clicked, and I didn't want to put it down.
This is a Southern coming-of-age story, set in pre-civil-rights era Mississippi. Starla is a spunky, sassy, adventurous nine year old, who ends up learning some tough lessons about family, race and segregation. She ends up traveling with Eula, an abused black woman, who struggles to come to terms with her past. It was difficult to read about how Eula was treated in the deep south, and hard to believe that those things happened only 50 years ago in our country.
My two complaints about this book are that Eula's behavior at the start of the book seemed unrealistic for the time, and that the lessons Starla learned about race seemed too adult for her young age. A point could be made that she approached differences in race with the innocence of a child, but her character was able to verbalize her thoughts well beyond what I would expect of a nine year old.
But I still loved Starla's connection with Eula and her desire to do the right thing. The ending was satisfying in every way.
Marcie's Rating: 4.5 stars
Becky's Review: This book took a while to get into but once I did, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I loved the connection between Starla and Eula. Eula needed someone to love and Starla needed someone to love her. My heart ached for Starla as she tried to find someone who would accept her and love her as her family. She was a nine-year-old looking for acceptance and learned about kindness in the least expected places. My heart also ached for Eula as she was bound to do the right thing but up against the obstacle of race relations. There were moments of the book that were hard to read because of the way Eula was treated even though I imagine this was a very honest portrayal of how life in the South would have been in the 1960s. I love how the author brought everyone together at the end but perhaps it was not the most realistic of endings.
Becky's Rating: 4 stars