In April, I was given the chance to receive an Advance Reader's Copy of The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin. That's quite an honor for a small, unknown blog like mine. The story sounded interesting, so I jumped at the chance.
"I need you to understand how ordinary it all was. . . ."
In the turbulent southern summer of 1963, Millwood's white population steers clear of "Shake Rag," the black section of town. Young Florence Forrest is one of the few who crosses the line. The daughter of a burial insurance salesman with dark secrets and the town's "cake lady," whose backcountry bootleg runs lead further and further away from a brutal marriage, Florence attaches herself to her grandparents' longtime maid, Zenie Johnson. Named for Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, Zenie treats the unwanted girl as just another chore, while telling her stories of the legendary queen's courage and cunning.
The more time Florence spends in Shake Rag, the more she recognizes how completely race divides her town, and her story, far from ordinary, bears witness to the truth and brutality of her times--a truth brought to a shattering conclusion when Zenie's vibrant college-student niece, Eva Greene, arrives that fateful Mississippi summer.
I started reading the novel in April, and I just finished it last night. That's not to say it was a bad book. Quite the opposite, actually. It was good. Really good. But the story was so painfully sad and left my heart broken. When it wasn't doing that, it left me infuriated, wanting to scream.
Florence's daily life was A LOT to digest. She's very strong because she has to be. But she's also innocent and vulnerable because she's only eleven years old. Reading her adult narrative and her eleven-year-old narrative added an extra layer to the book and helped me understand her reactions to and thoughts about the various tragedies in her life. Regardless of her age, I wanted to hug her and tell her that everything would be okay. Even if I wasn't so sure that would be the case.
The Queen of Palmyra was gripping, but it was also poetic. Minrose Gwin's words were so descriptive, so very vivid, that I could feel the summer heat, smell cakes as they were baking, and feel the sadness and fear the characters felt as if it were my own.
With a debut novel this powerful and beautifully written, I'm really intrigued to see what Minrose Gwin comes up with next.
For more information on Minrose Gwin, visit: