cover image Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Susan Crandall. S&S/Gallery, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4767-0772-3

Known for her romantic suspense novels, Crandall takes a fumbling step into book club–style women’s fiction with a derivative, if well-intentioned, Civil Rights–era bildungsroman. Stubborn, sassy, nine-year-old Starla Jane Claudelle lives with her grandmother Mamie in smalltown Mississippi. Her father works on an oil rig and her mother has been absent since Starla was three, seeking her fortune as a singer in Nashville. After a series of misbehaviors, Starla runs away, fearing her grandmother’s discipline and hoping for a reunion with her mother. Along the way, she meets Eula, an African-American woman who has taken custody of a white baby, much to her abusive, alcoholic husband’s dismay. Starla and Eula soon find themselves on the run together, dodging one-dimensional racists and receiving assistance from wise and accepting African-Americans. Starla’s fiery independence makes her a likeable narrator, which compensates somewhat for the underdeveloped adult characters and unbelievable plot points. While Starla’s story lacks the elegance of The Secret Life of Bees or the emotional intensity of The Dry Grass of August, fans of simple feel-good coming-of-age tales set in the 1960s such as Saving CeeCee Honeycutt will enjoy the ride. Agent: Jennifer Schober, Spencerhill. (July)