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Whistling Past the Graveyard Paperback – February 4, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The South on the eve of the civil rights movement, as seen through the eyes of this novel’s plucky nine-year-old narrator. Starla Claudelle lives in Mississippi with her stern grandma. Her daddy is away working on an oil rig. Her mama has gone to Nashville to be a star, so Starla decides to head there when she gets herself in trouble one too many times. She’s offered a ride by a black woman named Eula, who has with her a white baby found abandoned on the steps of a church. Eula takes Starla and the baby home, but violence forces them back on the road with no money and a truck about to break down. During their long and sometimes perilous trip, Starla sees firsthand what it’s like to be the wrong color in a segregated society, and her keen sense of injustice and need for love help her create a bond with Eula that transcends any barriers. It’s not easy to keep such a young narrator convincing for more than 300 pages, and for the most part, author Crandall manages it well. Readers will take to Starla and be caught up in her story. --Mary Ellen Quinn --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"A coming-of-age story as well as a luminous portrait of courage and the bonds of friendship. . . Susan Crandall tells young Starla’s story with pitch-perfect tone, evoking 1963 Mississippi and its struggles with a deft hand. I laughed and cried at Starla’s keen observances of life and family and the sometimes blurred edges of justice. Like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Whistling Past the Graveyard is destined to become a classic.” (New York Times bestselling author Karen White)

It’s not easy to keep such a young narrator convincing for more than 300 pages... Readers will take to Starla and be caught up in her story. (Mary Ellen Quinn Booklist)

“Crandall delivers big with a coming-of-age story set in Mississippi in 1963 and narrated by a precocious 9-year-old…Young Starla is an endearing character whose spirited observations propel this nicely crafted story.” (Kirkus)

“Starla’s fiery independence makes her a likable narrator.” (Publishers Weekly)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (February 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476740046
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476740041
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (814 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Indiana native Susan Crandall's breakout novel, Whistling Past the Graveyard was released July 2, 2013. Since then it has been featured in national book clubs, been an Indie Next pick and won the SIBA Award for Fiction. Her previous works have garnered national awards, including the coveted RITA(c). Her next novel, THE FLYING CIRCUS, will be released July 1, 2015. With the exception of seven years in Chicago, she's spent her entire life in her Indiana hometown. When not reading, writing or watching movies, Susan spends time with her husband, children and plethora of pets.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 83 people found the following review helpful By kitkat40 on July 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
"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."

"I thought about how me and Eula finding out each other's secrets had made us both better, and how we both had our own way of whistling past the graveyard."

These two quotes pretty much sum up this wonderful story of a little white girl growing up in South Mississippi in the sixties when racism in the deep south was rearing it's ugly head. I had many thoughts as I was reading this book and the two that came to surface most often was how people often treat children as if they are invisible. And, the dangers of keeping secrets and the damage they can cause. That was Starla... she didn't know it but she was surrounded by secrets and these secrets sent her on a wild goose chase to Nashville to fulfill a dream. Starla felt invisible to everyone around her and had come to believe that she was un-loved, un-wanted and not special... just nothing but trouble. She lived on the dreams that most children have when important things are missing from their lives... like loving parents, siblings and the feeling of being special, needed and important. So, when things hit bottom (at least her idea of bottom)she did what any un-wanted kid had to do... she ran away. On her way to Nashville she meets a colored woman named Eula. As they travel Eula teaches Starla that she has gifts, that she is special and most of all she is loved. Starla and Eula begin to need each other, lean on each other and love each other as family.
Starla learns some valuable and often frightening life lessons on this journey that will inevitably change her forever.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Patrice Hoffman on July 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover
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.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Book Preview Review on July 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Book Description:

"In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla Claudelle runs away from her grandmother's Mississippi home. Starla's destination is Nashville, where her mother went to become a famous singer, abandoning Starla when she was three. Walking a lonely country road, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white baby. Now, on the road trip that will changer her life forever, Starla sees for the first time life as it really is---as she reaches for a dream of how it could one day be."

A heartbreaking yet heartwarming, well written and easy to read coming of age story that illustrates the bonds and loyalties that stem from friendships and what truly makes a "real" family despite blood ties. I couldn't help but be captivated with Starla from the get-go. Her stubbornness, sass, feistiness and sheer determination had me rooting for her from page one. The story flows so easily that I could see the events unfolding clearly in my mind. At times, her one-liners were downright comical, further expressing her unblemished prejudices and adolescence.

One gets a glimpse of what life must have been like in the South with segregation and the early civil rights movement. One knows or has learned what it was like by adult standards, but a fresh new glimpse is told through the eyes of a child. Her child like point of view gives a much more simplistic, innocent and naïve understanding of the social issues and inequalities during those times. I loved her fierceness and how at such a young age she was so determined to speak her mind and stand up for what she felt was right. She was smart beyond her years and unfortunately grew up ever too quickly. She learned hard life lessons at such a young age. A narrative still worth teaching today.
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