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- and Mrs. Knopp in Sunday school always said our prayers should only ask for things for others. Once I made the mistake of saying that out loud to Mamie and got slapped into next Tuesday for my sassy mouth. My mouth always worked a whole lot faster than my good sense.
So starts the novel by Susan Crandall entitled Whistling Past the Graveyard, a coming of age story featuring nine-year-old Starla Claudelle whose sassy mouth and need to stand up for what’s right tends to get her in trouble more often than not.
Seeing a girl she knows getting picked on by a bully Starla steps in and clocks the boy in the nose. Her grandma grounds her and fearful that she’s going to miss all the fun on the fourth of July she sneaks out to watch the parade, However, one of her nosy neighbors sees her and is getting ready to cart her home to her Mamie to face the music. Scared that she’ll get in even more trouble and have to be sent to boarding school, Starla runs away. She believes if she can make it to Nashville her mother Lulu, who is trying to become a country star in Nashville, will help her set things straight. On her journey she meets Eula, a black woman in 1963 Mississippi, who is traveling with a white baby. Eula has more secrets than where the baby comes from though!
Along their journey, Starla and Eula form a friendship and a bond so close that even the prejudices of the time can’t tear it apart, and Starla learns a valuable lesson about family.
Narrated in Starla’s voice, I was instantly drawn in by the opening paragraph. The voice Susan uses for Starla is so believable I can easily picture Starla’s personality- and she has a big one. Even though she’s a smart mouthed little bugger she has a heart of gold and can’t help opening her mouth when things aren’t right even when she’s warned it will cause less trouble if she just stays quiet.
Eula immediately captured my heart as a woman who has so much love to give that her heart is overflowing because she has no one to give it to until Starla comes along. Eula has a troubled past and with the help of Starla she learns some lessons about herself as well.
I love, love, LOVED this book! I took this novel camping with me and left it next to my sleeping bag while we ran to the nearest town for an hour one sunny afternoon for supplies. By the time we got back to camp the skies had opened up and it was pouring…and I had forgotten to shut the windows in the tent! The last 100 pages or so of this book where sopping wet. I had to stand over the fire and dry the pages out so I could turn them without them tearing and disintegrating in my hands! But well worth every extra minute I had to stand over the campfire while the smoke rolled! (let it be noted that I did not take the time to dry my sleeping bag!)
Please pick up this book. I am predicting it will one day be a classic. Starla is being compared to Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and with the echoes of the Deep South that run through both stories I think it’s a fitting comparison.