Whistling Past the Graveyard
Review Rating B
Publisher Gallery Books
Historical Women's Fiction
Starla Jane Claudelle is only 9 years old (really, 9 and a HALF) who lives with her overbearing Grandmother, Mamie, while her father works at an offshore rig in 1963. Her life in Mississippi isn't terribly rough, but she feels treated more like a Cinderella than a grand-daughter. She tries to stay out of trouble, but sometimes her fiery temper exceeds her ability to reign in her mouth and actions. Not surprisingly, everything comes together in a perfect storm that sends her running from home, on the brink of death, and eventually searching Nashville for the mother she's not seen since she was 3.
I loved this story. I immediately identified with Starla. Her persona makes an indelible mark on your heart and mind. She's a do-er, a tomboy, and she tries to be a really good friend. It's the day before the big 4th of July celebration. Starla is intent on remembering to be extra careful with her mouthiness and behavior because “If I got in trouble now, I'd have to wait a whole nother year for fireworks.” Trouble finds her alright, and she's grounded for punching Jimmy Sellers right in the face. What's worse is Mrs. Sellers catches her in the park, knowing Starla's supposed to be on restriction. If Mrs. Sellers tells her Mamie, she'll be going to reform school for sure! Starla sets off on the run to avoid her fate and to reunite with her mother. She's picked up on the road by Eula, a black woman with her own secrets, and they begin a journey that will leave a man dead before they are through.
Starla is aiming for Nashville to find her momma (who's a big music star, she's certain) with no map, no money, and very little hope. She clings to those few memories of comfort and love when their family was all together. She is certain her momma can set everything straight and find a way to keep Eula out of trouble with the law, keep Starla out of reform school if they can just get to her. Each day gives Starla a fresh perspective on hard work, hard knocks, and disappointment. It just strengthens her resolve to remain loyal and protective of Eula, baby James, her momma, and her daddy.
It is written with a childlike, southern point of view. I really wanted to read this aloud because the syntax is very good, but that would have slowed the story down too much. This book is a page-turning train-wreck sort of tale. You can see what's coming, you're powerless to stop it, but you have to keep reading anyway. I had a hard time putting it down because you just have to know what's next.
This is a compelling tale of the realities of racial prejudices in the deep south in 1963, and the expectations placed on children then and now. The stories woven together are so poignant, so saturated, that you can't help but ache for the characters and their plight. I recommend this read because it is an excellent reminder that all people should be treated with respect. The story also evoked memories of my childhood in pale sepia tones that seem to accompany older memories. Eventually the trouble plays out and the story comes to a close. Everything gets settled and tidied up, but there is no fairytale ending. Even so, I think you'll be satisfied when you turn that last page.