Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan CrandallStarla Claudelle is a nine-year-old spitfire who lives with her paternal grandmother in Cayuga Springs, Mississippi while her father works off the coast on an oil rig and her mother is off in Nashville trying to launch a singing career.

It’s right before the big fourth of July celebration and Starla manages to get herself grounded for all of the festivities by punching the town bully in the nose. During the parade, she sneaks off for a little peek but gets caught by a friend of her grandmother’s. Rather than head home to her immediate enrollment in reform school, she runs the other direction and finds herself on the road out of town headed toward Nashville.

She meets a black woman, Eula, on the road willing to take her part way and from there everything she’s ever understood about her life changes.

The story is set in the summer of 1963 when segregation and racial tension in the south is at an all-time high. Starla is thrust into the harsh reality of her situation, as well as Eula’s, as they set out together for Nashville.

This novel was like reading Because of Winn Dixie or with the emotion of The Help or The Secret Life of Bees. I love that the story is told through Starla’s eyes, letting the reader witness this child’s coming of age through her unyielding determination to fix her broken family, her shattered innocence as she’s exposed the cruel world outside of Cayuga Springs, and the love that blossoms between two lost souls.

Starla’s character and voice was spot on which completely immersed me into the story. Eula’s character was just as compelling and I came to love her as much as Starla. This novel shares so many aspects of the human condition and gave my heart quite a workout as I walked alongside Starla, willing her to find her way.

If you’re wondering where the title of the book comes from, here’s the line:

“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 hidin’…it’s strong. It means you’re able to go on.”

It was such a great book and I hope you give this one a chance sometime soon!


Hallie Sawyer is a freelance writer/blogger with a passion for history, photography, travel, and books, of course. She lives in the Kansas City area with her husband and three kids, as well as her goofy Wheaten Terrier. You can find her at her website: www.HallieSawyer.com and on Twitter @Hallie_Sawyer.


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