Reader's Comments
Whistling Past the Graveyard By

Whistling Past the Grave yard

by Susan Crandall

PBR Book Review:

I listened to Whistling Past The Grave Yard by Susan Crandall on audio during a long car ride and found it to be a thoroughly entertaining book. It's a beautiful coming of age story set in Mississippi during the 1960’s. The protagonist is a young girl named Starla, who's mother, abandoned her as a small child, leaving her to live with her very stern and resentful grandmother. Feeling unloved and misunderstood, Starla decides to run away to Nashville in search of her wayward mother. As she walks alone down a desolate road, Eula, a black woman offers her a ride. Having no real plan for herself, she accepts, and the two begin a journey of self-discovery. The author delivers a beautifully written story about the relationship between two unlikely friends, both searching for love and acceptance as they try and make sense of their turbulent lives. While traveling in the deep south during the civil rights movement, they were confronted with unexpected racism and cruelty in many situations. Starla’s voice is authentic and heartwarming as she searches for the true meaning of family. This book would make an excellent book club selection as it provides many points of discussion on family relations, racism, raising children and life in the 1960’s.

Book Club Talking Points:

Talking Points: The story takes place in the 1960's, which was a turbulent time for America. Racism and class are a major thread throughout the book as well as family relationships and the dynamics, which occur within a broken family. It's told through the voice of a child, which adds an interesting spin to the book.

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*Author Website: http://susancrandall.net/

*Other Books by Same Author: The Flying Circus, Back Roads, Sleep No More, The Road Home, Pitch Black, Magnolia Sky, A Kiss in Winter, Seeing Red, On Blue Falls Pond, Promises to Keep

*Discussion Questions



1. By telling the story from Starla’s point of view, we get to look at the South in 1963 through the eyes of a child. Why do you think the author chose a child narrator? What do you think this adds to the story? How do you think the book would be different if it were told from the perspective of someone like Eula or Lulu?

2. We see different sides of Mamie’s character throughout the novel. Do you think her changes are manufactured for her own benefit? Or are they genuine? Which moment convinced you one way or the other?

3. Secrets permeate the plot of the novel. As a child narrator, Starla has many secrets kept from her. Some secrets are to protect her, while others are simply too painful to share. Name a few of these secrets. Was the secret justified or would it have been better to reveal it earlier?

4. Eula claims that ultimately Wallace’s downfall is his pride. Do you agree? Do you think that this is true or that Wallace is a victim of his circumstances? Do you sympathize with him at all?

5.After leaving Wallace behind and travelling with Starla, we see Eula beginning to find herself. Do you think that there’s a specific moment when that happens?

6. Eula and Starla are both products of dysfunctional families. How different or similar are their coping mechanisms for dealing with their families? In what way do they influence each other as they grow stronger?

7. From the beginning of the novel, Starla questions the implications of the religious beliefs that she sees practiced around her. How do Starla’s thoughts on religion evolve as she meets characters such as Eula and Miss Cyrena? Do you think she comes to a conclusion by the end of her journey?

8. In Miss Cyrena’s neighborhood, Starla experiences first-hand the harsh reality of discrimination. How does her experience there change her and affect her character? She’s even called a “polar bear.” How does this affect her throughout the rest of the book?

9. Miss Cyrena claims that people never actually change, we just change our perception of them. To what degree do you think this is true? Does it apply to Wallace? Lulu? Mamie?

10. The carnival is a major recurring theme throughout the novel: Eula’s spirit is broken when her cousin is beaten and Starla faces her biggest adversary (the Jenkins brothers). What is it about this setting that you think is integral to these scenes?

11. Discuss the interplay of race and class. Mamie is vehemently against Black equality, possibly because of her low social standing. This is similar to the Jenkins brothers. How do these obstacles overlap?

12. When they make a pie crust together, Eula warns Starla against “working the dough” too much. How do you think this is symbolic of Eula’s philosophy in general? What does this teach Starla?

13. Eula tells Starla that everyone is born with many gifts, but it is up to them to discover them. What are some gifts that Eula and Starla discover during their journey? Why do you think Eula is so determined to help Starla find her gifts?

14. At the end of the story, Starla’s father lives up to her dreams, but her mother disappoints her. How did you feel about each of them at the end of the story?

15. If this novel were a movie, who do you imagine would play Starla and Eula?



Book Summary
Gallery Books ; 1st Printing edition (July 2, 2013) - Fiction - 320 pages
In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old spitfire Starla Claudelle runs away from her strict grandmother’s Mississippi home. Starla hasn’t seen her momma since she was three—that’s when Lulu left for Nashville to become a famous singer. Starla’s daddy works on an oil rig in the Gulf, so Mamie, with her tsk-tsk sounds and her bitter refrain of “Lord, give me strength,” is the nearest thing to family Starla has. After being put on restriction yet again for her sassy mouth, Starla is caught sneaking out for the Fourth of July parade. She fears Mamie will make good on her threat to send Starla to reform school, so Starla walks to the outskirts of town, and just keeps walking. . . . If she can get to Nashville and find her momma, then all that she promised will come true: Lulu will be a star. Daddy will come to live in Nashville, too. And her family will be whole and perfect. Walking a lonely country road, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white baby. The trio embarks on a road trip that will change Starla’s life forever. She sees for the first time life as it really is—as she reaches for a dream of how it could one day be.
 
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