Now tell me, who wouldn’t be drawn to a book entitled Whistling Past the Graveyard? I mean, is it a supernatural tale involving ghosts? Is it one of the thriller novels that have become so popular? Is it a gory mystery story?
The novel, written by Susan Crandall, a midwestern author who understands the mindset of a 9-year-old girl, is none of the above. Instead, it is a coming-of-age story that convincingly demonstrates what the world was like in the 1960s, when civil rights hadn’t yet reached the southern states.
The story’s narrator is young Starla Claudelle whose mother deserted her as an infant and ran away to Nashville to become a star. Starla’s father works far away in the oil fields of Louisiana, and visits Starla as often as possible. Starla lives with her mean-spirited grandmother who seems to resent her very existence.
One day, facing what Starla believes will lead her to be sent to reform school, she runs away without a word to anyone — even her very best friend. She hasn’t gone very far when she is picked up by a young African American woman named Eula who agrees to drive her to Nashville to find her mother. To Starla’s surprise, in the back seat of the car is a white infant wrapped in a blanket.
Eula takes Starla back to her house to gather supplies for the baby before they take off for Nashville. They face Eula’s abusive husband, and this leads to that. Before they know it, the three are running away from trouble towards Nashville.
I read the book very carefully, waiting to pounce upon the author for writing dialogue and thoughts inconsistent with those of a 9-year-old, but couldn’t find any. Though sometimes I wanted to take that girl over my knee for her impulsive and often dangerous behavior, she remains true to her 9-year-old self throughout the story.
As you can image, things don’t go well in Nashville. There are a lot of lessons learned, both by Starla and by the kind and sweet-natured Eula. The ending was satisfying and true to the rest of the story.
I enjoyed this book very much, and will read more by the author.