The Queen of Palmyra (P. S. Series)

The Queen of Palmyra (P. S. Series)

3.8 21
by Minrose Gwin

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"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,"


"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.

Editorial Reviews

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

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are saying about this

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.
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.”

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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Queen of Palmyra 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
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
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1963 in Millwood, Mississippi funeral insurance salesman Win Forest heads the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. His wife Martha is deathly afraid of her husband while their eleven year old daughter Florence is confused though she can clearly see her mom's trepidation. When her mother makes treks to bootleggers she leaves her child with her grandparents; another repetitive occurrence that bewilders the child. At her grandparent's home, Florence seems to always anger the ultra tall heavy black housekeeper, Zenie. Florence also spends time at Zenie's home in the rundown Negro neighborhood Shake Rag. As the civil rights movement explodes across the south, Zenie's niece Eva arrives to sell insurance to pay for her college tuition; igniting the racial tension even further. The aptly titled Queen of Palmyra is a terrific historical drama that brings to life the period of Mississippi Burning but with more depth than the super movie. The key players represent various groups during the Civil Rights struggle with the extremes being Win willing to kill to retain what little power he has left and Eva willing to risk her life for economic and academic opportunities. Caught in the middle are Martha and Zenie pulled by their respective race to support their side when both want to be left alone. Observing all is the confused tweener who will remind readers of To Kill a Mockingbird. Character driven, Minrose Gwin captures the essence of a changing world. Harriet Klausner
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bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
The Queen of Palmyra, the debut novel by Minrose Gwin, will find a welcome audience in fans of Kathryn Stockett's The Help. Both books are set in Mississippi in the 1960s, and deal with the changing relationship between blacks and whites. While The Help is told from the viewpoint of four narrators, The Queen of Palmyra is told by twelve-year-old Florence Forrest. Florence is the daughter of Win, a burial insurance salesman who also happens to be a rabid Klansman. Her mother Martha drinks to excess, and bakes cakes out their tiny home to bring in some cash to this poor household. Martha despises Win's racism, and her attitude is not appreciated by Win or the small minded people in their town. Flo spends much of her time at her maternal grandparents, in the company of Zenie, the maid. Because Martha drank so much, Flo spent a lot of time with Zenie, even going home with Zenie when she finished work. Zenie's young, beautiful, smart niece Eva comes to stay during her summer break from college. Eva is of a younger generation, and she has different ideas about her place in life. She gets a job selling burial insurance policies, which causes conflicts with Win. These conflicts turn dangerous, and Eva is attacked. When she won't back down and leave town, race relations come to a boil. Zenie and her husband Ray fear for Eva, and for themselves, as the Klansmen become bolder in spreading their violence and hatred. Because Flo is a young girl, she doesn't completely understand what is going on. She loves Zenie and Eva, and her parents, and as children are want to do, speaks her mind. She can't reconcile why people she loves can't get along. The author does a good job describing the atmosphere in this small town at the time, and the scene where Win takes his daughter to a Klan meeting is frightening and veers into creepy as Win puts his daughter in a robe and hood, and various men try to grope her. It is very disturbing. I also thought that the complicated relationship between Zenie, Ray and Flo was well done. Zenie and Ray were frequently exasperated at having to care for a white girl who had been abandoned by her mother. While The Klan was terrorizing the black community, Flo would show up at their doorstep and not understand why she was not welcome. The novel is filled with tension- between Win and Martha, Martha and her parents, blacks and whites, Zenie and Eva. The characters are believeable, people just struggling to live life as best they can under the circumstances. Some succeed (Zenie) but for others, life is too difficult (Martha). Having Flo narrate the novel echoes Scout, the narrator of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, but that also has it drawbacks. Questions go unanswered, such as why Flo did not attend school, and what happened to them during the year she and her family "disappeared". I found that not knowing these things distracted me. The Queen of Palmyra is a dark book, but it gives the reader a real look at the what life was like at that time in small town Mississippi. The turbulent relationship between blacks and whites, and between a young daughter who just wanted the love of her very different parents is hard to look at, and yet it gives the reader a real sense of empathy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AScattergood More than 1 year ago
Young Florence Forrest's father has failed at yet another job, and her mother, Martha, insists they return to the family's hometown where Martha's cake business will support them. So they return to Millwood, Mississippi, surrounded by grandparents and situations Florence struggles to understand. Why is her mother making late-night trips to the Black bootlegger in town? Where does her father go to his clandestine evening meetings? With both parents completely incapable of caring for her, 11-year-old Florence's care is given over to the grandparents' long-time maid. Over six feet tall with legs that pain her, Zenie, named for Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, reluctantly agrees to take on Florence for the summer. Soon Zenie's college-educated niece Eva moves in, and Florence's eyes are open to an entirely different world--what race really means in a small southern town in 1963. Minrose Gwin is a Southerner with a perfect ear. Her characters' voices, the story, and its setting never resort to stereotypes. The writing is complicated, literary and amazing. This book reminds me (a native Mississippian) of the best of our state's writers and the Southern novelists we've come to treasure. Fans of The Secret Life of Bees, The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird-- to name a few-- will not be disappointed. The Independent Booksellers group has named this book an "Indie Noble."
JPTaiChi More than 1 year ago
I just finished an Advance Reader's Copy of this book, The Queen of Palmyra, by Minrose Gwin. This is her first work of fiction, and it's tremendous. The book will be published on April 27th, in paperback. I think the publisher, Harper Collins is making a HUGE mistake, sending it straight to trade, instead of hardcover. At least it will be less expensive for the legions who will be lining up to buy this moving novel. (There's already a line of booksellers to read the ARC!) Be sure to buy it. You won't be able to put it down. When my friend Tom gave it to me to read, he told me how much it affected him. I was affected the same way. The father in the story, in the South of the 1960's, will be one of the worst people you ever read about. But, read The Queen of Palmyra, anyway.