Here’s another fantastic book I read based on my colleague Nancy’s suggestion. Like her last recommendation, The Supreme’s at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, this one takes a look at friendships and race relations in the South.
Starla Claudelle is an impetuous, spunky 9-year-old kid who learns a lot about the world during a two-week adventure in the summer of 1963.
Her mother moved to Nashville to be a country music star when Starla was just 3 years old. She has vague memories of a beautiful woman with a lovely voice, and her most prized possession is a demo record her mama sent her a few years ago.
Starla rarely sees her dad who works on an oil rig in Biloxi. She is growing up under the care of her grandmother, Mamie, who doesn’t have a lot of patience with Starla. Maybe Mamie is just worried that Starla won’t grow up into a proper young lady without the restrictions and high demands, or maybe she’s just got a mean streak…
After losing the privilege of attending her favorite holiday festivities because she was defending a younger girl against a bully, Starla decides to sneak out for the 4th-of-July parade and get her share of candy. When she is caught by one of Mamie’s friends, Starla reasons that she might as well run away to Nashville and live with her famous mother instead of staying in Cayuga Springs and being sent to reform school.
There aren’t many cars on the road on the holiday, and Starla is beginning to rethink her impulsive action when a black woman pulls up and offers her a ride. You know from the start that Eula doesn’t believe Starla’s story about why she’s on the road alone, but Eula takes her home anyway and eventually helps her get to Nashville to find her mother.
Through the course of the story Starla learns about kindness and meanness, justice and injustice, truth and lies. And the reader learns it, too, through her eyes.
I loved the way the reader, Amy Rubinate, handled the narration of the audiobook. I particularly enjoyed Eula’s voice – soothing and calm. I looked forward to hearing what she had to say, especially after hearing Starla go on about something she was upset about. Rubinate received AudioFile’s Golden Earphones Award for her work on this book.
When I got nervous that Starla was going to get in a heap of trouble, what Starla referred to as getting a “red rage,” I had to turn off the CD and pick up the book. It sounds silly, but I cared about the characters too much to listen to something bad happen to her or Eula. And no, I won’t spoil the story by telling you whether my fears were unfounded.
I’d recommend this one to book groups looking for a something like The Help or as Nancy suggested, The Sweet By and By. There is a lot to discuss about friendship, family and racial tensions. A reading group guide is available online at the publisher’s website.
Check the WRL catalog for Whistling Past the Graveyard
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Whistling Past the Graveyard