July 03, 2013

Unlikely companions on a Southern journey

By Susan Crandall
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Put Susan Crandall’s latest novel in your beach bag and be prepared to devour it in a day or two—even though this isn’t just a breezy, sweet tea and peach pie kind of read. Crandall’s novel visits themes that are not new to the Southern lit reader, but her point of view and relationship development are fresh and captivating. Whistling Past the Graveyardaddresses the Civil Rights movement in 1960s Mississippi through the eyes of the main character and heroine, 9-year-old Starla Claudelle.

It’s July 4, 1963, and Starla has run away from an overbearing and strict grandmother, taking to the country roads in hopes of finding her way to Nashville and her estranged mother. She accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman who is hiding a white baby in her pickup truck. Starla and Eula take a journey through Mississippi where Starla witnesses racism, segregation and, at times, violence against Eula. Racial tensions are elevated, and the small towns in Mississippi are no place for this particular trio.

Starla’s relationships with Eula and the characters they meet along the way are delivered to the reader with the spunk and light-heartedness expected from a young girl. The comic relief from Starla is appreciated, and made me wish we could all see difficult times like Starla does: as obstacles to be confronted with a bit of sass.

Whistling Past the Graveyardis the perfect pick for your summer reading list or book club gathering—a surprisingly multilayered story about two unlikely companions on a journey of healing, growth and forgiveness.

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