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Whistling Past the Graveyard

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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.

307 pages, Hardcover

First published July 2, 2013

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About the author

Susan Crandall

30 books694 followers
Alas, the rumor is true, Susan was a dental hygienist in her previous career. However, she "retired" from that profession many years ago and has been a full-time author ever since--thanks to all of you fabulous readers.

Susan grew up in a small Indiana town, married a guy from that town, and then moved to Chicago for a while. She is pleased to say that she has been back in her hometown for many years and plans to stay.

She's received a RITA, two National Reader's Choice Awards and a SIBA Award for Fiction. Her books include an Indie Next Pick, Okra Picks, a Target Book Club pick, and are popular with book clubs.

THE MYTH OF PERPETUAL SUMMER will be released June 19, 2018.

Join her newsletter for new release announcements. http://susancrandall.net/newsletter/

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,507 reviews
Profile Image for Tania.
1,198 reviews269 followers
September 12, 2014
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.

I absolutely adored Starla, She is such a feisty, compassionate and hot-headed little girl. She is one of my best-loved characters ever. I thought her voice was very authentic. I know a few nine year olds, and they tend to alternate between being extremely naive and wise beyond their years.

The backdrop for Whistling past the graveyard is 1963 Mississippi, so obviously racial tension and segregation plays a big part in the story. The book allows us to step into the characters shoes and feel what it’s like to be invisible or hated because of the colour of your skin. But this is just the background for the real story. A story which made me nervous, happy and sad.

My initial criticism was that the characters were a bit too simplistic, in that they were either good or bad, but then I realized that I’m seeing them through the eyes of a child, and for kids everything is still very much black and white.

I highly recommend this coming of age story to anyone who enjoyed The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird

*Netgalley copy
Profile Image for Rebbie.
142 reviews110 followers
February 6, 2017
“I had to hold on to the mad so the sad didn't drown me.”

9 year-old Starla Jane Claudelle is a lil cracker jack box of a kid with fire engine hair, a sassy mouth and a strong sense of justice. She doesn't yet understand the world around her in the tumultuous environment of Mississippi in 1963, but she learns how unfair life can be when she runs away from her Mamie's house to live with her mama in Nashville.

Along the way she meets Eula, a sweet African-American woman who is wise beyond her years, but who is trying to get through life under the steely fist of an abusive husband. And under her care is a white newborn baby boy who was abandoned on the steps of a church.

This book shows the harsh reality that there were little to no choices for women, especially women of color.

The book is written from the pov of Starla only, so it was interesting to see things through her naive perspective, while having the knowledge of understanding what was really happening around Starla, Eula and baby James.

Why isn't this book a classic already? I want a sequel, btw. We need to know more about Starla's journey through life, and the torch she keeps burning in her heart for fairness and treating people right.

What a beautiful thing to write a book about.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,284 reviews2,205 followers
October 18, 2014

Parts of this story may seem a little unrealistic but it really doesn't matter because many other truths are told in this novel:

- The ugly truth of segregation, prejudice, and what it meant to be black in the south in the 1960’s.

- The realistic depiction of a tough lesson learned by a 9 year old girl that in life things may not be as they seem and no matter how much we want something to be true, sometimes it just isn’t.

- How love and caring can take a little girl and a grown black woman back from despair.

These are just a few of the things that rang true for me in this story of this sad and feisty young girl , Starla and Eula , the black woman she meets along her journey to find her mother in Nashville . It's sad in so many ways but yet what Starla and Eula give to each other is the hope that they can move forward from the things in the past that have hurt them.

Starla has a way with words that sometimes is funny and at other times just so descriptive of how she is feeling.

"I was working real hard at stopping words that were better off swallowed.”

"A big lump of surrender swelled up in my throat, Black, slimy fear wound itself around it, choking me til my ears rang and my chest hurt."

And my favorite:

"After swallowing my stomach back to where it was supposed to be ....."
This was how I felt I felt when I finished this book.
Profile Image for Debbie W..
724 reviews483 followers
February 18, 2021
I LOVED this story! I highly recommend reading/listening to it for the following reasons:
1. Interesting look at segregation in the American Deep South during two weeks in the summer of 1963 through the eyes of a white child.
2. Characters are so well-developed! How can one not like Starla, a sassy 9-year old girl, yet innocent in the ways of her world? I had a soft spot for her, especially in her use of vernacular and occasional childlike vocabulary. And I sympathized with Eula, a kindhearted black woman, but vulnerable due to her abusive past.
3. Even though I had somewhat predicted the ending, I was still entertained by the plot twists on this riveting road trip.
4. Susan Crandall used evocative descriptions for her characters and settings. For example, sensory details about the carnival Starla visited brought back such vivid personal memories that I felt like I was on the fair grounds with her.
5. Brilliant narration by Amy Rubinate -pleasant and believable!
6. The audiobook I listened to was the Booktrack Edition. The background music seemed to enhance rather than distract from the story.

Overall, a great read!
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
871 reviews1,760 followers
July 1, 2019
Sorely disappointed. It was not what I was expected. I had a hard time to believe in the characters and their motives. Starla and Eula, both were unrealistic and their actions were even more foolish. A 9 year old leaving her house and meeting Eula on her way to Nashville, who was running away after stealing a white baby. This happening in Mississippi of 1963 is something that I simply refuse to believe in. At times, Starla behaved like a grown up, the things she said at age of 9 again made me question how much I can put faith into this story. Perhaps a 12 or 13 year old, I can imagine saying or doing things the way Starla did in this book but she was only 9 year old. Nope, this one did not work for me.
Profile Image for Libby.
581 reviews157 followers
February 3, 2022
“Once the bus had got going again, I got to thinking hard. Colored water fountains never had a cooler like most of the white ones did. Didn’t colored people like cold water when it was hot as the hinges of Hades? And Miss Cyrena’s school. No swings. All kids liked to swing, so I bet the colored kids didn’t think things were fine the way they was.”

Nine-year-old Starla Claudelle is growing up in the turbulence of segregation in Mississippi in 1963. Feisty and opinionated, Starla is relegated to the care of her grandmother, Mamie, who has the finesse of a bulldozer. Her father, Porter works on a rig in the gulf and is gone for long periods. Her mother, Lucinda, has gone to Nashville to get famous as a singer. Starla hasn’t seen her since she was three years old. This story is about Starla’s adventures when she runs away from home.

While on her runaway road, Starla falls into the company of Eula Littlejohn, a black woman with a cross to bear in the form of a mean husband. Eula has had a particularly hard life which will come out in technicolor before too much time has passed. That Eula has a white baby boy in the truck with her when she picks Starla up is another puzzlement to be pondered. Of all the mysteries and secret layers to Eula, one thing is plain as day right from the start. Eula is kind. Whereas Mamie treats Starla as though she is a burden and tells her that even her name, Starla fits someone who lives in a trailer park, Eula says her name “Sounds like a nighttime winter sky…you know, when the air is sharp and the stars so bright they look like little pinpricks to heaven.” Starla is starved for love, starved for kindness, and laps up Eula’s offerings like a hungry little pup. It makes me think about children who wither on the vine for lack of love and belonging.

Susan Crandall’s depiction of Starla felt authentic to how a nine-year-old would think and act, especially a hot-headed little girl with a mind of her own. Seeing racial discrimination through Starla’s eyes is an effective way to show how horrific it really was. Starla is confused and for the first time in her life, she knows fear. She sees people judged as lesser and unworthy, made to sit in the back of the bus, made to use dirty, set-aside bathrooms, refused patronage at diners and cafes because of the color of their skin. She hears the stories of bodily harm. This is not the only reality that Starla is dealing with. The way she has always thought about her family is also changing. In the quagmire of these shifting sands, Eula becomes an anchor, a steadying voice of unconditional love and wisdom. Eula is dealing with the tremendous weight of her own problems, so there is a reckoning that lies ahead.

Whistling past the graveyard, according to Starla’s dad, is what we do to get us past scary, past the ghosts, past the fear. Whistling as an active and noisy pursuit helps us know that we are strong, that we can go on. It’s a message that works for today, too.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book486 followers
February 2, 2022

Starla Claudelle is a nine-year old dynamo with red hair, who has a lot to learn about the way things are in the 1963 Mississippi she inhabits. She lives with her grandmother, Mamie, who is far from kind and loving, and she dreams of life with her mother, who she believes is a career singer in Nashville. When events unfold in a way that makes her feel she must run away, she heads out to Nashville alone and is given a ride by a black woman, Eula Littleton.

Eula is a damaged soul, but a sweet and caring person, and her meeting with Starla is God’s way of watching out for both of them. They are both misunderstood, but in understanding one another, they come to grips with what it means to be a complete human being.

He’d called her stupid, but she wasn’t stupid. She was just empty.

What ensues is a series of adventures that cause Starla to see first hand the racial divide in a way that she had never seen it before. As she comes to question the way of life she has always known, she develops a bond with Eula that is touching and scary for both of them.

I couldn’t explain the tangled up way things was making me feel. Mamie said I’d understand when I got older. But the older I was getting, the more confused I got.

As you get older, I guess the assumption is that the prejudices have been well taught and whether you understand better or not, you will at least understand the consequences of not adhering and accept this as just the way things are. Thank God for some brave people who stood up and said “no” despite the consequences, like Miss Cyrena, but also those, like Starla, who stand up for what they know is right, without knowing the possible consequences.

As she comes into contact with the Jim Crow world around her, she meets the worst of the white people and the worst of the black, she sees the fear that each can cause in the other, and she recognizes the basic human injustice that is taken for normal in her own world. But, she also sees the best of both, and that many struggle to be good and decent in a world that does not place enough value on those qualities. It is genius to see this through the eyes of a child, an innocent, not yet taught to hate someone for the color of their skin.

I had to hold on to the mad so the sad didn’t drown me.

I love the characters Susan Crandall has invented for this story, particularly Starla, Eula and Miss Cyrena. As improbable as the story was at times, they all seemed uncannily real and the predicaments strangely believable. The book reminded me of The Secret Life of Bees, another coming-of-age tale that addressed these issues. The mood and subject are the same, the story is quite different. Well worth the read.

Profile Image for Robert.
Author 10 books420 followers
March 11, 2014
In my younger days, when I had more sass in my head than I had sense, I managed to hit a few boys, and I got walloped a few times in return. Momma always said my mouth wandered off more than it stayed home, and my jaw got more exercise than a coon hound on a huntin’ expedition. I had more than a little trouble stopping words that were better off swallowed, and I had my defiant face all practiced and rarin’ to go faster than my granddad’s John Deere tractor.

I was fixin’ to visit my momma in Nashville, where I had bigger dreams than those country music singers on the radio, and I was at my wits end and back again, with an incoherent thought that was stretched further than the truth. I had a case of the red rage somethin’ mighty fierce, and I stomped my foot so hard I thought a floorboard or two was about to give way. I hated Jimmy ’cause he was the turd of the century, and I was on a one-way ticket to the reform school faster than one of them drag racers.

So, yes, for the better part of two days, you could say I had an out-of-body experience. I was ready to pack my shit and move to North Carolina or Virginia, watch NASCAR and SEC football, chip 6 of my teeth, have tea on Sundays with biscuits and visit the Baptist church, fill my mouth full of sweet tea (the only kind of tea there is despite my wife’s protestations to the contrary), conduct a PowerPoint presentation on the proper use of Southern words, raise the Confederate flag, pray for Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, shove a shotgun in the back of my pickup truck and tear off toward the nearest access road, and I felt like screaming Prissy Pants in my best nine year old voice.

I need to look up See-Monkeys and Sparkle Pants (whatever the heck they are) to go along with my new Barbie House; I will be pursuing my new profession (curb girl at the drive-in); I plan on going out half-cocked and I’ll be double sure; and I plan on incorporating skitterjittery, pinkie-swore, crap on a cracker, extra-smart, skeeters, bless her heart, h-e-double-hockey-sticks, squallin’, caterwaulin’, dumber than a box of rocks, truth be told, lick of sense, shitbird, hollered, and stinky dog doo into my vocabulary.

I often like to whistle past graveyards, or at funerals, weddings (including my own), receptions, bat mitzvahs, airports, waiting for the bus, or at bats that are about to buzz the top of my head. So I enjoyed this book something mighty fierce. And I feel as though I should send this novel to all my Massachusetts’ friends and family as a Christmas present, so they can brush up on the proper way of conversatin’.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Cross-posted at Robert's Reads
Profile Image for Lori  Keeton.
475 reviews106 followers
February 5, 2022
Starla Claudelle is 9 years old in the summer of 1963. She lives with her very strict grandmother, Mamie, in a small town in Mississippi. Her father works on an oil rig off the Gulf coast and doesn’t get to spend much time at home. Starla’s mother, Lulu, abandoned the family and lives in Nashville where Starla believes she is becoming a famous country singing star. Starla is quite a feisty firecracker with a sassy mouth and a strong will. She is always doing something impulsive to get herself into trouble and put on restriction. At times she seems incorrigible because she just doesn’t listen. She leaps before she looks and then must suffer the consequences. But deep down, she has such a good heart.

My mouth always worked a whole lot faster than my good sense.

When Starla realizes that Mamie may not actually be threatening to send her to reform school because of her latest offense, she decides to start walking to Nashville to find her mother. Along the way, out on a country road, a black woman named Eula Littleton stops and gives her a ride. To Starla’s surprise, Eula has a white baby in the truck with her and they set off toward Eula’s house for the night. These two don’t realize how much of a Godsend each will be to the other in the beginning. Starla and Eula form a very strong bond as they go through a series of adventurous and sometimes frightening occurrences. They help each other to face their fears and learn many lessons about the world they live in and about themselves. Starla’s eyes are opened to the realities about segregation and intimidation toward blacks. The circumstances they find themselves in often put them in need of help. When they meet Miss Cyrena, a lovely school teacher in a black school, who is working behind the scenes for equal rights, she teaches them the importance of kindness and unconditional love and acceptance. Eula and Starla discover a lot about friendship, second chances and family.

I wondered what other gifts I got bottled up inside me? That question has started to gnaw on me some.

Susan Crandall has created a wonderfully spunky and precocious little girl in Starla. She speaks her mind and her innocence about the ways of the world sends a message loud and clear that people are people no matter the color of their skin. There is a saying from the Old Testament, Psalms 8:2 that says “God ordains strength out of the mouths of babes”. Children like Starla can often see what adults refuse to see and are wiser because they don’t fear speaking their minds. Seeing civil rights through the eyes of a child was a wonderful way to tell the message of love and second chances.

Everybody wants equal rights, Starla. Everybody. They don’t all agree on how to make it happen…or about how much misery they’re willing to take on to get them. It’s a complicated world and takes dedication and a willingness to take some risk to evoke change.
Profile Image for Patrice Hoffman.
552 reviews257 followers
July 3, 2013
Let's get that I absolutely LOVE this book out of the way. Whistling Past The Graveyard is a heartwarming, endearing coming of age story about a fiesty 9 year old girl who decides it's high time she flew the coop in an effort not to be sent to boarding school. It's the summer of 1963 in Cayuga Springs, the Fourth of July, and a pocket full of penny candy that puts the wheels in motion for a life-changing experience for two unsuspecting lives that intersect on an abandoned road.

Whistling Past The Graveyard is narrated by Starla who's often described by her grandmother Mamie as a girl who can't stay out of trouble. Starla's personality is as red as her hair and Mamie does not for a second allow Starla to forget that she's a stone's throw from being just like her mother. Mamie is probably one of the characters I like the least but it's probably also because I only have Starla's point of view in her assessment. Not long into Starla's jailbreak she meets Eula, a colored woman with a set of her own problems.

Susan Crandall does an excellent job at so many things in this novel such as character development, being true to the era, and all the things we love and hate about the south. Starla and Eula are an unlikely pair being their race differences as well as age differences. Starla is not afraid of anything and even when she is she doesn't back down. Eula on the other hand has been treated poorly her whole life. They both compliment and complete each other and give the other what they both need most. I love their relationship and readers will appreciate it as well. Crandall really captures what it friendship and family mean.

A lot of blurbs are comparing this novel to the bestseller The Help and I don't think that's a fair assessment. Not that this book isn't on the same level but because I find Whistling Past The Graveyard to be more true to the 60s than The Help. Crandall doesn't sacrifice the tension or danger of the 60s to make for a more sugar-coated, easier pill to swallow for the masses. There were moments I was on the edge of my seat hoping that things would be all right for our two heroines. The only similarities between the two works are the race of the narrators and the period they were written in.

I will say one last time I LOVE Whistling Past The Graveyard. It's about friendship, family, and seeing the just and unjust in life. I recommend this book to lovers of fiction and especially to those who love coming of age stories. Whistling Past The Graveyard reaffirms that in some cases, blood isn't thicker than water.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,732 reviews14.1k followers
August 12, 2013
3.5 Let me say that I absolutely loved little nine yr. old Starla, being raised by her overly strict grandmother was by no means fair. Felt sorry for Eula, her life, her sorrows, yet she was full of love just looking for a place to land.

The south in the sixties was a rather horrible place to be a black person, though as Eula says, They is just used to it." Still reading these books are always so hard, people were just so darn cruel. A nine year old taking off on a journey to find her mother in Nashville, seems a little extreme, most kids that run away come back on their own after not getting further than the end of their street. Starla though is motivated, she is inquisitive, spunky and bold. Things do not go as she planned and both Starla and Eula confront things they never thought they would have to confront and learn a great deal about what exactly being a family means. Would have given this s solid four except for one little thing I had a hard time getting over. As inquisitive as Starla is how could she have never realized what being black in the south meant, she was far from naive. She could figure out how to handle a man being killed by Eula and what to do about it, but not that? I know a little picky, but it was still marvelous read, with some fantastic characters.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,687 reviews451 followers
February 15, 2022
Starla is a nine-year-old girl with bright red hair to match her fiery spirit. Her mother left the family to seek fame as a country music singer and her father is gone most of the time working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Starla lives with her strict grandmother in Mississippi. Her sassy mouth and stubborn nature get her into trouble, and her grandmother is constantly putting Starla on restriction. Starla is convinced that she will be sent to reform school so she runs away from home to live with her mother in Nashville. Walking with no food or drink in the hot sun, Starla is grateful when she is offered a ride by Eula, a sweet black woman in an old truck. This is the start of a series of adventures, some quite scary, as they travel to find Starla's mother.

"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."

Starla learns about the segregation, intimidation, and prejudice that black people face in 1963 as they travel. When the truck breaks down, they are helped by Miss Cyrena who is active in fighting for civil rights. Starla and Eula fill an emotional need in each other, and help each other heal. Eula tells Starla that the good Lord gives everyone special gifts, and it's important to try new things to discover our gifts.

While a few events in the story stretched credibility, it was a good read with wonderful main characters and important truths. Both Starla and Eula had good hearts, but needed love and kindness. The book was more than a coming-of-age story and an adventure tale. It was a look at life in the Jim Crow South through the eyes of a child who understands that kindness is more important than skin color.
Profile Image for Crystal Craig.
250 reviews575 followers
November 10, 2021
Be sure to visit my Favorites Shelf for the books I found most entertaining.

I had high hopes for this book right from the start, and I was not disappointed. What a fantastic southern novel. The title grabbed me first and then the cover art, but the best part was the written word inside. I loved reading about young Starla and her adventures. She's quite the character. I totally recommend this book.
Profile Image for Ruth Turner.
408 reviews112 followers
October 30, 2014


Well written, easy to read, and Southern. I should have loved this book.

But I didn't, because I didn't like any of the characters and felt no connection to them. Starla, the main character and narrator, really annoyed me. I found her irritating and objectionable.

I gave up at about two thirds because I really had no interest in how the story finished.

Disappointing and implausible.

Profile Image for Yasmin.
299 reviews5 followers
August 26, 2013
Read like many stories written by white authors which are set in the South, about the 60s pre-Civil Rights Movement, and feature a black main character. So...nothing really new shared here...very predictable. Also, the storyline was too unrealistic to me...this story was set in the Deep, Dirty South/Mississippi and it was hard to believe some of Eula's (black main character) actions. Seriously she kidnaps a white baby and harbors a white runaway...yeah right in 2013 maybe but the 60s...I ain't buying it. Additionally, there was a scene outside of a Nashville church involving Eula and a group of black men that was very stereotypical and disturbing and the author lost major points with me as it appeared she injected her own bias into the storyline. I noted that this author has written other books but I'm not sure that I will ever read any of them as Whistling turned me off not because of the writing which was decent but the storyline which was too far fetched and reminded me that most non-blacks canNOT tell stories that adequately represent who we are, how we would react or what our actions would entail.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,161 reviews509 followers
July 14, 2015
Family is forged by either blood or the heart, or if you're lucky, both.

Nine-year-old, Starla seeks solutions for her own problems, such as a threat from a mean neighbor to have her admitted to reform school, and her grandmother's strict rules that is constantly being ignored by this red-haired feisty little girl. Life is tough enough for a kid in 1963 in the American south when her mother just abandoned her and left for Nashville to get famous without her child. Starla always believed the town was just being mean to her mother, Lulu, and that the latter will make everything right for this young girl who still believe her mother cared for her.

When she decides to elope and find her mother in Nashville, a chain of events is put in motion that changes her outlook on life, family, and American history within a very short while. Racial tension and segregation becomes harsh realities in the life of this little girl who still want to win a teddy bear at a town fair. She soon learns what discipline really means and that choices have consequences she has to face up to.

I wanted to read this book for a very long time and finally got to it. It was a good experience. The theme was often overly(blatantly) emotional and the plot had too many sub-themes, such as the little baby who just fizzled out in the end. Baby James was initially an important part of the story, yet did not fit quite into the ending, so had to be removed. Beloved Eula kills a man and nothing comes of it; a young woman leaves her baby on the church steps and nothing comes of that. Well okay then, I would love to live in that particular town ...

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading this story. Historical fiction, southern charm and enough love to mend all the broken hearts, even those half broken and not even aware of it yet. The racial set-up was used very well in the story although it often felt forced. Doesn't matter, the story kept me bonded to the lovable characters and their different ways of whistling past the graveyard ...
Profile Image for Jessaka.
887 reviews120 followers
May 12, 2022
Definition of the book’s title: `1. To attempt to remain cheerful in a dire situation. 2. To enter a situation with no understahding of the consequences.

I was drawn to the title of this book as it sounded spooky. It was not spooky at all. It was scary. Just no ghosts.

1963. Mississippi. July 4th. Nine year old Starla was grounded, so she could not go to the July 4th festival, her favorite day of the year. She went anyway. She was like that. Never minded. She was caught. Fearing being sent away to a reform school, she left the festival and just kept walking. Decided that she would find her mother in Nashville where she was now a famous country music singer. So, her plan was to walk all the way from southern Mississippi to Nashville. Well, she did not have a plan, and she never thought of the consequences. Whistling.

As she walked along the road, she grew tired. Probably hungry as well. A black woman in an old pickup truck picked her up. The black woman had a white baby with her. Starla didn’t know what she was getting into, just as I said. She was white and whites should never mix with blacks in the old South.

As the story moved along, she and her traveling companion, Eula, became close friends, which was the best part of the book. Starla learned a lot about racism, such as, “Why can’t I be seen with you?” Why can’t you go into the same restaurants and restrooms as me?” You know, those kinds of things and even more.

Right now, I am reminded of the Johnny Cash song: “I’m going to Nashville. I’m going to mess around…When I breeze into Nashville, people are going to stoop and bow…I’m going to Nashville, that is all she wrote…Ain’t never coming back…” (Wrong town. Supposed to be Jackson. She passed through there too.)

This also reminds me. I went to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville when I was 16. Went backstage to see Johnny Cash. I loved him so much. Saw Loretta Lynn, June Carter, The Carter Sisters, Minnie Pearl, and Grandpa Jones, whose skin was that of a 25 year old.. Women were hugging on Cash, and I thought it wrong for a man to be hugging on anyone other than his wife. I did not get a hug. I can tell Starla this: Nashville ain’t what it is cracked up to be. I went back in the 90s, and the old Opry House was closed down. Peaked inside and was told it would cost $5. No way.

I learned some neat southern sayings from reading this book: “Crap on a cracker.” No comparison to “shit on a shingle.” Instead, it is a continuation of “Oh, crap!” Now I do not know if it is a cracker as in food, or as in a white person. It was Starla who said it. I do not think that I will try it out in public. Then I learned, “He/she is as dense as swamp mud.” I am sure there were more, but I was not paying any attention to them. Maybe I was more worried that Starla or Eula were going to get killed, raped, or beat up.
Profile Image for Mary  BookHounds .
1,301 reviews1,783 followers
July 17, 2013

Starla is almost 10 years old when she is put on restriction AGAIN by her grandmother, where she lives in a small town in Mississippi while her father works on an oil rig. The disappointment grows when Starla realizes that she will miss the Fourth of July parade and fireworks. Told to stay home, she sneaks off to watch them anyway. Caught by a neighbor, she is put on even more restriction and when she overhears her grandmother say she will be sent to reform school, she decides to be proactive and run away before that can happen. Starla decides that her mother who is living in Nashville and is a "famous singer" is her destination. As she is walking down the road, dying of thirst, a woman with a baby picks her up.

The woman, Eula, offers a ride in her broken down truck and Starla accepts rather than go to some horrible place her grandmother might send her. The story covers their trip to Nashville and all that they encounter. I am just going to get this out of my system now: The Secret Life of Bees, The Help, Huckleberry Finn were what came to mind while reading this one. The pair bring to light to horrible racism that still exists in the South today but was even worse in the early Sixties. As Starla witnesses the injustice that Eula faces on a daily basis, you can see the wheels turning in this bright child's mind and how she is trying to understand why things are so unfair. The fighting spirit is also strong in her as she tries to make everything right for those she cares about.

Her grandmother is not quite evil, but you can tell that her feelings about Starla's mother transfer over to how she feels about her granddaughter. I don't want to give anything away but it does have a happy ending for all involved. There are themes of child abuse, domestic violence, social mores that make no sense including how unwed mothers were treated and the fact that Starla barely escaped being known as a bastard. This would make an excellent book for a club since there is so much to discuss. This has to be one of my favorite books that I have read this year.
Profile Image for Jennifer Lane.
Author 15 books1,414 followers
March 24, 2016
The Help Meets The Secret Life of Bees

...and what a glorious meeting it is. I attribute my adoration for this 1960s Southern story to its spunky, never-quit narrator Starla.

Starla is nine years old and can't seem to stay out of trouble with her grandmother Mamie, who takes care of Starla because her momma left to pursue a music career in Nashvegas and her daddy works on an oil rig.

Naturally Starla is fascinated by her departed momma, and I was furious with Mamie for hiding packages that Starla's momma sent to her. Mamie's fear of Starla turning out like her no-good momma makes her a controlling caregiver. Starla believes Mamie hates her.

Feeling stifled and afraid of being sent off to reform school, Starla forges out on her own, determined to find her "famous" momma. On the way she meets Eula, a young black woman who has appeared to kidnap a white baby. Ruh roh! Starla and Eula experience all kinds of harrowing adventures on the journey.

These two characters are absolute stars in the foggy night sky of racism and fear in Mississippi. Starla tries to deal with her "red rage" no-filter fight-for-justice episodes, but there's no reining in such an irrepressible spirit. Eula has been through absolute hell but won't let anything stop her outpouring of sweet, inspiring, maternal love. Together they're a force for good in evil times.



One of my favorite parts of the book is Starla's evolution in racial beliefs. Mamie has taught her that black people are inferior. But Starla's experiences completely contradict that lesson. Eula saves her life and inspires her to create a life worth living. Miss Cyrena offers Starla help when no one else will. We all get told certain "truths" in our upbringing that we then discover to be quite false, and this was a poignant example.

"Here's the thing 'bout gif's." Eula stopped buttering her toast and looked straight at me. "A body don't know how many the good Lord tucked inside them until the time is right. I reckon a person could go a whole life and not know. That why you gotta try lots of things, many as you can...experiment."

I love Starla's daddy. And Mamie is so complex that I'm not sure how to feel about her. But Starla and Eula definitely steal the show.

Highly recommended! Thank you to Janelle for choosing this gem for book club.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,336 reviews693 followers
July 23, 2013
I loved this story of the plucky 9 year old narrator, Starla Claudelle. In the story, at one point, she provides her name as Nancy Drew, who is the epitome of “plucky”. It takes place in 1963 Mississippi, which was a racially turbulent time in our country’s history. I am constantly shocked to be reminded that these horrific racial transgressions(should have been crimes) happened in my lifetime. I loved the voice of Starla, who made me laugh, smile, and recoil in horror. Susan Crandall deftly uses the innocence of Starla to illustrate the complexities of race relations in 1963. In the story, Starla is in the care of her 42 year old Grandmother, Mamie. Mamie isn’t so happy being a grandmother and resents Starla. Starla’s mother is in Nashville to become a singer, and her father works on the oil rigs. When Mamie puts Starla “on restrictions” on the 4th of July so Starla has to stay home all day and miss the festivities, Starla just can’t help herself and sneaks out to see the parade....she can’t miss all that free candy being thrown to viewers. When she is seen by one of Mamie’s friends, Starla runs away because Mamie has told her she’ll go to reform school. Thinking she’s running from the law and reform school, Starla takes a ride from a nice Christian black woman, Eula. Thus begins a three week adventure of Starla and Eula trying to get to Nashville to find Starla’s Mom. The reader is reminded of the horrors of our nation’s history while the girls navigate their way. I savored the characters and enjoyed Crandall’s writing style. Very easy to read.
Profile Image for Britany.
964 reviews417 followers
October 19, 2014
1963, deep south Mississippi, and one feisty little 9 year old girl.

Starla Claudelle is growing up with her Mamie, her daddy working on an oil rig, and her momma left to become a singer in Nashville. Starla decides she's going to run away to reunite with her momma, so that she can finally have the happily ever after of her dreams.

Along the way she meets Eula, a black woman with a white baby. Things go from tricky to downright scary, and the story for me took a grittier, darker turn than I had anticipated. This book reminded me a little bit of To Kill a Mockingbird with the deep racial tensions of the South mixed with a strong narrator in Starla. My heart leapt out of my throat on multiple occasions over how quick Starla jumped in to rescue someone.

Wonderful southern themed book, looking forward to reading more by Ms. Crandall.
Profile Image for Ann.
Author 14 books263 followers
July 31, 2013
I must say if you haven't read Whistling Past The Graveyard by Susan Crandall, you're missing something gooood. Love me some Starla and Eula. The author brings her characters alive. Love this book. It's like eating a good meal at your granny's and then sitting out on the porch to watch the sun go down. Beautiful work.
Profile Image for Morgan .
821 reviews132 followers
April 29, 2020
This warm, funny, heart-breaking, heart-warming novel tells the story of Starla Claudelle who is the most engaging, bright, sassy, feisty, brave, lovable nine-year-old you will ever meet.

Narrated in Starla’s nine-year-old Southern voice, she begins: “My grandmother said she prays for me every day. Which was funny, because I’d only ever heard Mamie pray, ‘Dear Lord, give me strength’. That sure sounded like a prayer for herself.”

Starla runs away from her grandmother’s home hoping to get to Nashville to find her Momma. The book takes us on Starla’s journey after being picked up on the road by a coloured woman driving an old rusty pickup and carrying a white baby. Being Mississippi 1963 you can only imagine that this is not going to work out too well for either of them.

There are lessons to be learned from this novel as well as a bit of history dealing with civil rights issues at that time. It is poignant from start to finish. You cannot help but fall in love with this precocious child, feel a deep sadness for Eula and know that sometimes the most encouraging words can come from whence you least expect it.

Eula: “Sometimes laughin’ is all a body can do, child. It’s laugh or lose your mind.”

Profile Image for Kim.
76 reviews7 followers
February 2, 2018
I loved this book! It’s one of my all time favorites. It’s the story of a young girl, Starla, and her road trip with a colored lady, Eula, in the early 60s before desegregation. This story and the characters were great. If you liked The Help, you will like this book. I listened on Audible and liked the narrator as well.
Profile Image for Chasity.
243 reviews13 followers
March 4, 2022
I thoroughly enjoyed this! It’s one that I’d put up there with my other favorites of this genre like The Secret Life of Bees and even Where the Crawdads Sing. Audio was very good and I fell in love with both young Starla and Eula. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Angie.
1,214 reviews131 followers
July 5, 2013
Oh my gosh…just, wow. This book was way better than I expected it would be. If you’ve read and enjoyed Kathryn Stockett’s The Help or Julie Kibler’s Calling Me Home, you definitely want to read this gem.

It starts off a little slow but picks up speed once Starla runs away from home and meets Eula, who stole a white baby. From there on out the story takes one unexpected turn after another. The only similarities between The Help and this heartrending novel are the era in which the story plays out, it being in Mississippi, and racial barriers and tension between colored and white people. Everything else is completely new and focuses on the developing love and friendship between Eula, an abused colored woman who longs to have children of her own, and an almost-ten-year-old white girl, Starla, who longs for her mother and father to be together so she can have a family of her own.

“Here’s the thing ‘bout gif’s.” Eula stopped buttering her toast and looked straight at me. “A body don’t know how many the good Lord tucked inside them until the time is right. I reckon a person could go a whole life and not know. That why you gotta try lots of things, many as you can…experiment.”

The inseparable bonds and relationship that develops between Eula and Starla is the stuff compelling novels that leaves a hole in your heart are made of. It was so easy to relate to both these characters in different ways, and served as an eye-opener of what life must’ve been like in the 1960s. Both Eula and Starla are endearing characters and by the time I got to the last page, I knew I would be thinking about these two exceptional women for a long time. Both of them learned something from the other about life, love, sacrifices, friendship, hope and forgiveness. It’s an unforgettable journey the reader takes alongside them, but be warned, it’s one that will move you deeply. I laughed with them, I cried with them and there were many times I feared for their safety. What got to me most, though, were how they were treated by some folks, and that served as a reminder that prejudice isn’t limited to color only.

The author sketches 1963 Mississippi realistically, not withholding any of the unpleasant happenings of that time. It’s a story that showcases both sides of human nature and reiterates that despite the color of our skin, we all have the same needs and desires. Everyone wants to be loved, right? The ending was lovely and I was wholly satisfied with how things turned out for both these magnificently smart, strong, but oftentimes vulnerable, characters. At the heart of it, Whistling Past the Graveyard is testament to how we define ourselves in different settings and how love – be it from friendship, family or something more intimate - can cross any boundary. This is a highly satisfying read which I believe will find a front row seat on many bookshelves.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
249 reviews1 follower
April 15, 2013
I won an ARC copy of this on Goodreads! Can't wait to find time and read this one.

The only problem with getting a ARC copy is that I don't have anyone to talk to the book about as soon as I've finished it. I have to wait until the release date and then wait for them to read it!

I really enjoyed the story about Starla and her journey with Eula and James. Susan Crandall was able to put me into their world and really feel like I was in the 60's. You can see things thru the eyes of a child who is so innocent and just starting to understand that the world isn't very nice when you leave the safety of your home.

I loved the way Starla stood up for things she believed were right, since they are things we should all stand up for.

The side characters were wonderful too. Miss Cyrene, Troy, Wallace, Lulu, Daddy, and even Mamie were portrayed in such a way that you could see them very clearly in your mind, or even know someone like them (Hopefully you don't know any one like Wallace!!).

Since I have an ARC I was sent a card that might be the cover and title of the book. I hope they keep it just the way it is. From someone who does judge a book from the cover I LOVE it! It would be a book that I would pick from the shelf because of the eye catching cover. And the title! LOVE IT!! It describes the book so well once you understand what Starla means when she Whistles past a grave yard. That's what the whole book is.

I can't wait for the release so I can talk to others about this book.
Profile Image for Kathryn in FL.
716 reviews
February 18, 2022
I am pretty certain I wrote a review for this one, which I may have read in 2019. So, either the dog ate my home work, Goodreads crashed and erased or my ever-present stalker/hackers deleted it. Since, my dog typically only eats his expensive kibble or facial tissues (to punish me for not paying him attention 24/7), I'll opt for 2 or 3 possibilities.

This was a really good story about loving your neighbor and seeing people behind the stereotypes. As I write this, I am starting to wonder if I am thinking of a similar story. So, I'll not publish this until I can take a gander at this one to be sure.
Profile Image for Chris Torretta.
863 reviews38 followers
July 1, 2013
I stayed up well into the night to finish this one. That was after I was all tucked in and comfy but just couldn't get this out of my mind. I could have read in bed but I didn't want to get drowsy, I wanted to be able to take in every detail! It was so worth it!

This starts and I really felt for Starla. Her grandmother is a bit of a pain. And boy does she have her opinions, which she thinks are truths (of course). It is about the 1960's and of course the prejudices of that time. And Susan Crandall does an outstanding job of not having it come from just one point of view. Although the story is told in Starla's pov, we get to see how everyone treats each other from the view of a nine year old.

But what really got me is the intensity and the enormity of all the situations Starla finds herself in. Some situations are so intense that I nearly wanted to put the book down. I just didn't see how she and Eula could find a good way out of the stickiness they always find themselves in! But I just had to keep trudging on to find out what happened. I couldn't help myself... And although quite a bit of this is unnerving, much like a horror novel where your heart is beating a hundred miles per hour and you're scared when the character peeks around the corner because you just KNOW that something bad is going to happen, much like that but even as adrenaline was being pumped through me, I just knew I had to stick it out with Starla. And her story is so worth it! For a nine year old she's sharp as a whip and so interesting!

But my favorite character was Eula. She has been through so much and keeps her Christian faith. She never talks poorly about anyone and truly is such a beautiful person. This is one of those times when you wish you could really meet this person because you just know she would help to make YOU a better person. Susan did a brilliant job of making her come alive. So much so that even with all her praying, which can sometimes get on my nerves if done in abundance, she instead made me feel like she was really special and just so grateful that she had air in her lungs and a sky to look upon!

The plot was mesmerizing. Like I said, I nearly wanted to put this down, but I just couldn't. I was whistling right along Starla and Eula! And the ending... oh the ending. It brought tears to my eyes. I will be thinking of this book for a long time to come!
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