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The Queen of Palmyra (P. S. Series)

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Overview

"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 ...

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The Queen of Palmyra: A Novel

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Overview

"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.

Minrose Gwin's The Queen of Palmyra is an unforgettable evocation of a time and a place in America—a nuanced, gripping story of race and identity.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In the tradition of Harper Lee's classic comes this story of 11-year-old Florence Forrest, an only child growing up in the Jim Crow South, forced to accept unsavory truths about her family.

Florence is, by all accounts, a happy, spirited girl. She doesn't understand why her father leaves each night with a mysterious box or why her mama drinks so much. What Florence knows are sultry days spent with her grandparents, being cared for by their maid, Zenie, on the colored side of town.

Tension builds during the summer of 1963. Mama bakes cakes at all hours to scrape by. And Zenie's niece Eva is in town, selling insurance to the blacks and stepping on Mr. Forrest's toes. When Eva is brutally assaulted, all hell breaks loose: Mama crashes her car, Florence's grandfather dies, a woman is murdered, and Florence finally gets a look in Daddy's box.

Florence sees things that summer that she won't understand for years to come: her mother's disappearance, her father's racism. Years later, she'll face the truth and how she was caught in the middle of it. The Queen of Palmyra is rich in both setting and characters. It's an affecting tale of a girl who is loved yet lost, trying to make sense of the world in a tumultuous time, finally forced to confront the sins of her father.

"Holds the reader spellbound...."
— Lee Smith, author of Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-eyed Stranger

Publishers Weekly
The protagonist of this affecting and disturbing bildungsroman, Florence Forrest, lives in Millwood, Miss., the small segregated town where her father, Win, a burial insurance salesman, is the proud leader of the local Klansmen. It's 1963, and Florence can't figure out why her mother, Martha, fears Win and focuses her attention on making runs to bootleggers. Florence spends days at her grandparents' house where she irritates the surly black housekeeper, Zenie (named for Zenobia, the queen of ancient Palmyra), and the afternoons with Zenie's family in Shake Rag, the neighborhood on the black side of town. Zenie has no particular affection for Florence or her kin, but tolerates the lot of them out of necessity. The civil rights movement is sweeping through the South, and when Zenie's pretty, ambitious niece, Eva, comes to town to sell insurance to earn money for college, Millwood will never be the same. This thought-provoking novel shows the terror and tragedy in one divided Southern community whose residents have no interest in reconciling. The blacks want their equal rights while Win and his followers would rather kill than relinquish power. (May)
Jill McCorkle
...a brilliant and compelling novel... The beauty of the prose, the strength of voice and the sheer force of circumstance will hold the reader spellbound from beginning to end.”
Lee Smith
The most powerful and also the most lyrical novel about race, racism, and denial in the American South since To Kill A Mockingbird....A story about knowing and not knowing, The Queen of Palmyra is finally a testament to the ultimate power of truth and knowledge, language and love.
Sharon Oard Warner
Divert your reader and, and then “clobber” them, advised Flannery O’Connor. In this bold and brilliant book, Minrose Gwin diverts us with the affecting voice of a child and then clobbers us with the ugly truths of our collective past. I can almost hear O’Connor cheering.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061840326
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/27/2010
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 410
  • Sales rank: 531,313
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Minrose Gwin is the author of The Queen of Palmyra. She has written three scholarly books, coedited The Literature of the American South, and teaches contemporary fiction at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 21 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 17 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 26, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    LOVED IT! Well written and filled with complex characters.

    I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened its pages but what I found inside was a real treat. Sometimes you fall in love with a book because of the writing. Other times, you fall in love with the characters or while reading it, you just find yourself lingering over every piece of it because it just "fits" you. Although the writing is lovely, what I really enjoyed about this book was that it was filled with wonderful characters and it just seemed to fit me as a reader. It was a good mix of childhood adolescence and larger adult themes.

    The story is told from Florence's point-of-view and at the age of eleven, she pretty much tells it like it is. She's wiser than her years in many ways but at times her innocence comes through and reminds you that she is in fact, just a child. As tensions rise and race continues to divide the community, she struggles to find her place and is sort of swept away with the tide, bouncing from one household to another and not really fitting in anywhere. As rough as this period is for her, I found myself rooting for her, knowing that she'd come out of it okay. Maybe not perfect, but okay and if you've had a rough childhood, okay is pretty darn good.

    Although I found myself relating to Florence the most, I enjoyed many of the other characters even though I never really liked them. In other words, these people would not be my friends, but the author makes them fleshy and whole and spends a great deal of time giving us all of the wonderful details that make them who they are. The smells, the oily sheen of hair oil upon a head, the way they carry themselves, etc. These characters don't have to say much. There are moments when all they do is sit or stare but somehow the author conveys their thoughts through their posture and mannerisms. It takes skill for an author to speak volumes while the character remains mute.

    When Eva Greene arrives, it's as if the door to Florence's world suddenly opens. Being around the same people day in and day out, you tend to get used to them but with Eva, Florence begins to notice things that she didn't notice before and that's when she begins to grow as a character. The presence of Eva made all things real.

    If I had to compare this to another book I'd have to say that it did remind me of The Help, but just a little bit. The help (Zenie and Ray) do play a key role in this story, but the relationships are not as endearing as the ones in The Help. That's not to say that weren't as powerful. The relationships in The Queen of Palmyra were quite powerful but a bit more subtle. As for Florence, she has the same feel as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird but she also reminds me of Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She definitely has her own voice though

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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