I tend to read heavily in the fantasy and historical fiction genres, but every once in a while, I like to step outside of my reading habits and try something new. PALISADES PARK was exactly that. Let’s just say that deviating from my routine was a very good thing, because if I hadn’t taken that chance, I never would have found this book.
Eddie Stopka is a kid with dreams. Looking to escape an abusive stepfather, he runs away as a teenager but can’t stay away from his little hometown on the New Jersey coast for long. When he returns, he finds a job at the Palisades Amusement Park, a place that holds very happy childhood memories for him, and it’s there he meets the woman who will become his wife. Taking a chance, the two buy into a French fry stand at the park, start a family, and live a life. However, it’s their oldest child, a daughter named Toni, who is the true dreamer in the family. Having seen a female high diver at the park, Toni immediately knows that’s what she wants to do when she grows up.
"Even with all their faults and problems, the Stopka family is a pleasure to be with. Also, author Alan Brennert manages to evoke such a sense of time and place in the story that I felt right at home with the characters and setting."
Even with her mother telling her that women can’t be high divers, Toni persists. Her mother gives in enough to get her and her brother swimming lessons, but beyond that, she doesn’t offer much encouragement to her diving dreams. Toni, however, knows her heart and it sits at the top of the high platform in front of an audience.
I’m a character-driven reader. Yes, plots are nice and I like when they stick together for a story to play out properly, but when characters are wonderful, I’m in for the duration. Even with all their faults and problems, the Stopka family is a pleasure to be with. Also, author Alan Brennert manages to evoke such a sense of time and place in the story that I felt right at home with the characters and setting.
Brennert knows how to draw readers in and keep them in the pages of the book. PALISADES PARK spans over 50 years, and the characters are not immune to the world around them --- World War II, the Korean War --- as well as smaller scale problems pertaining to family life and work. Even with all the years in between, the story doesn’t falter and the characters feel very genuine.
PALISADES PARK is what I think of as a soft-spoken book. There’s not always a great deal of happiness in the lives of the characters, and we are reminded that bad things do happen to even the best of people, but somewhere in all the mess that is life, there is a wonderful story. The laughter is tinged with a bit of bitterness, sometimes even sadness, but the dreams that are held dear can sometimes come true. I like leaving a book with that kind of ending.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on April 11, 2013