Review: Palisades Park

Title: Palisades Park Image

Author: Alan Brennert

Rating: ★★★★★

Provided Synopsis: Growing up in the 1930s, there is no more magical place than Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey—especially for seven-year-old Antoinette, who horrifies her mother by insisting on the unladylike nickname Toni, and her brother, Jack. Toni helps her parents, Eddie and Adele Stopka, at the stand where they sell homemade French fries amid the roar of the Cyclone roller coaster. There is also the lure of the world’s biggest salt-water pool, complete with divers whose astonishing stunts inspire Toni, despite her mother’s insistence that girls can’t be high divers.

But a family of dreamers doesn’t always share the same dreams, and then the world intrudes: There’s the Great Depression, and Pearl Harbor, which hits home in ways that will split the family apart; and perils like fire and race riots in the park. Both Eddie and Jack face the dangers of war, while Adele has ambitions of her own—and Toni is determined to take on a very different kind of danger in impossible feats as a high diver. Yet they are all drawn back to each other—and to Palisades Park—until the park closes forever in 1971.

Review: When my mother spotted me reading a book titled Palisades Park, she immediately became animated as she told me stories of the one time she went there as a very little girl. And to me, that animation and storytelling based off of precious childhood memories is what makes this book so sensational.

Eddie Stopka goes to Palisades Park for the first time in 1922 and goes on to remember that day as the best of his life. When he returns as a late teenager to find a job, the adventures he has, the people he meets, and the life he creates is what forms this story.

Alan Brennert has written a sweeping family narrative that follows Eddie, his wife, his son, and especially his daughter, Toni, who wishes for nothing more than to be a female high diver. As in all stories that resonate strongly with me, this one is slow burning as the readers get to know the characters. We learn of their dreams and desires, we see how they grow and change. Since the novel spans over so many years we also catch glimpses of the changing cultural and political climate in the United States and New Jersey. Characters go to WWII and the Korean War, characters witness and participate in demonstrations to denounce segregation, characters know members of the mob — and that is just to name a few. The storytelling was so first-rate; I felt as if I was in the park, munching on French Fries or hearing the clacking noise of the roller coasters. I was transported to another time and place, and my reading experience was all the better for it.

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