Set in the summer of 1963 (hard to believe that was 50 years ago) during a pivotal time in the civil rights movement, WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD by Susan Crandall tells the story of those turbulent times through the eyes of nine-year-old Starla Claudelle. Starla runs away from home to find her mother, who deserted her and her father years ago, as she pined for a career as a country music singer. Starla is hellbent on getting to Nashville, the last place she has known her mother to be, where she is sure her mother is a country music star.
As she heads on her journey, she is offered a ride by a black woman who is traveling with a white baby. As the three unlikely companions make their long and sometimes dangerous journey, Starla’s eyes are opened to the harsh realities of 1963 southern segregation.
Starla’s voice and plucky nature is reminiscent of another little Southern girl from literature whose name also starts with an S. Crandall’s portrayal of the South in 1963 has all the anger and hostility of the time, but it is softened by the naivete of Starla.
For those wondering about the title, the term “whistling past the graveyard” references people who aretrying to remain cheerful in difficult circumstances. It’s so apt here.
I’m recommending this book to everyone from adults to teens. And when I think about it, I hear all kinds of whistles --- sad ones, happy ones, and those who draw people to move on to other places. And through those whistles, I hear joy amongst sadness.