In The Queen of Palmyra, eleven-year-old Florence lives in Millwood, a segregated town in Mississippi. Her mother is the neighbourhood cake lady, who secretly visits the bootlegger. Her father is a burial insurance salesman, who goes to secret meetings at night. During the day, they leave Florence in the care of her grandparents' maid, Zenie. Florence sees how segregation affects those around her, but things really heat up Eva, Zenie's niece, comes to town, in this sensational coming of age story set in the turbulent 60s.
This book was terrific. Written entirely from Florence's point of view, the story takes us through her life as she sees it. She acts as our narrator and witness to these dark, emotional and troubled times. The whole story was extremely sad and had very few instances where there was a glimmer of hope. It was so hard to read at times, but that did didn't stop me from finishing the book. It was so compelling.
At first, I was a little confused. Some events were merely suggested, making it a little hard to know exactly what was happening to Florence. I thought the author might be sparing us the horrid details of abuse, but then I realized that the story was being told from Florence's point of view and she was only eleven-years-old. She either didn't truly know what was happening or didn't have the words to describe it. This would have been an entirely different story had it come from one of the other characters.
Florence was easily my favourite character. I loved her as the narrator. I couldn't help but feel sorry for her, though. She was young and didn't really understand what was going on in Millwood or even in her own family. Her immediate family was a mess and her caretakers were scared, for good reason. She would have been a lot worse off had it not been for Zenie, Mimi, her grandmother, and Grandpops.
Because the book features extraordinary characters in extraordinary times and contains plenty of contentious topics, I think it would be an ideal selection for a book group. I'm sure some of the discussions would be quite lively.
New word alert: There was one word in the text that I didn't know: malfeasance - misconduct
Want to know what others thought of this book? Here are some other reviews: Julie's review at Booking Mama and Katie's review at the Dundee Writer.
Highly recommended. I'd gladly read more of this author's work.
For more information about this book or to Browse Inside, please visit the HarperCollins website.
For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Minrose Gwin's website.
I'd like to thank those nice people at Harper Perennial for this review copy.
The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin, Harper Perennial, ©2010. ISBN 9780061840326(Uncorrected Proof), 390p.