By Susan Crandall
Gallery Books, $24.99, 308 pages
This reviewer laughed out loud to the many antics of nine year old narrator, Starla, in Susan Crandall’s latest novel, Whistling Past the Graveyard. Starla lives with her Mamie (grandmother) in a small southern town while her father works on an oil rig and her mother is busy getting “famous” in Nashville. Starla is sassy and acts before she thinks and lands herself on restriction on her most favorite holiday: July Fourth. So Starla decides she is going to run away, find her mother in Nashville and her father will join them and, of course, a perfect family will form. Starla is quickly picked up by Eula, an African American woman in an old rickety truck accompanied by a white newborn. Eula takes Starla and the newborn to her home and husband, Wallace. Wallace is a bit of a drunkard and nuts and insists that Eula cannot form a family with two white children. Starla tries to escape and disaster ensues. Eula, Starla and the baby decide to head to Nashville to find Starla’s mother. During their adventures to Nashville, Starla begins to understand what is “allowed” for Coloreds in 1960’s America.
“Some of the best things in life come when you’re not planning on them. It’s important to see them for the gift they are.”
This story has so many layers to it: the south, being nine, being white vs. African American, being childless, being battered and being a part of small town America – just to name a few. Starla is smart, clever and naïve all at the same time. Crandall writes with skill and emotion and this novel will make you laugh, cry, smile and gain understanding of how difficult it is to make change happen.
Reviewed by Seniye Groff