Friday, July 5, 2013


Title: Whistling Past the Graveyard
Author: Susan Crandall
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Reviewed by: Books4Tomorrow
Source: Received from publisher via NetGalley
My smiley rating: 5/5


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.



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.

This review forms part of my three-month participation in the NetGalley Knockout Challenge for 2013.


Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall has 121 reviews on Goodreads. Read it here.


I stomped my foot. “Is it Christian to let a kid be sick and not help? Why do we care if we treat them Christian-like if they won’t help us?”
She leaned down so she was looking right in my eyes. “You hear me, child. You can’t use other folks’ bad behaviour to excuse your own. When we got a choice, we keep Jesus in our hearts and don’t do nothin’ that would make him ashamed.”
“Why won’t they help us?” I sounded like a crybaby, but I couldn’t help it. “Why did he slam the door when he saw I was white?”
“Same reason some white folks slam the door when they see I’m colored. Some folks don’t see nothin’ but your skin. It ain’t right, but it’s the way people are.”
She bundled me close to her and started us back toward the road. “C’mon now. Sooner we start walkin’, the sooner we get you some aspirin.”
When I looked back toward the house with the lights, those two little colored girls were back at the window. One of them raised a hand and waved.

NOTE: This excerpt was taken from the uncorrected ARC I received for review.



BACK ROADS was Susan Crandall's first solo work, her first published work, and her first award winning novel, winning a RITA for Best First Book and two National Reader's Choice Awards. 

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 and her husband have two grown children. "They make me proud every day," Susan glows. "My son, who has the heart of a poet, is also a writer. My daughter, who is both beautiful and brilliant, is about to take her first steps into the working world of science."


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