Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Author: Alan Brennert
Released: November 2013
PALISADES PARK is one of those books… It’s the kind of magical novel that says, “Pssst! Hey you! Come with me…” (Or, maybe in this case, “Come on over!”) Then, without realizing it, you find that you have been transported to another place and another time, and you find yourself living within its pages; sharing laughter and tears, triumph and heartbreak, indeed – life and death, with people you, yourself, have just met. So, it’s an amazing thing, when an author can make you feel as if you’ve known these characters your entire life – or, theirs…
At the heart of this novel is Palisades Amusement Park, and Alan Brennert does an incredible job of bringing this historic tourist destination to life. Although, the park opened in 1898, the book begins in 1922; the height of the Great Depression looms over the country like a pall and the park is barely making a profit. But, a new saltwater pool (the biggest in the world) and a transfer in its ownership is about to change the park, and the lives of the millions who will go there, forever.
Enter Toni Stopka; a seven-year-old dreamer and adventurer, who aspires to become a professional high diver. Spending her childhood summers within Palisades Amusement Park, (while her parents run a popular French fry stand), Toni will meet a diverse cast of characters who will guide her and leave their indelible marks upon her life; shaping her into the woman she will become, as she follows her dreams.
Before I read PALISADES PARK, I had never heard of the place. The park closed in 1971; at that time, I was five years old and living in Jacksonville, Florida. Through Alan Brennert’s writing (from his own personal experiences), I feel (vicariously) like I’ve been there many times. Some reviewers have complained about the chronological gaps in the story, but I don’t see the reasons for those gripes. As I said, the heart of the novel is the park, and the story revolves around key points in its storied history: fires, wars, segregation, etc., and how those times changed the park and those within its gates.
While the Stopkas may be fictional characters, Alan Brennert brings them to vivid life with rich detail; as well as the many colorful characters (many of which are based on real people) who come and go over the passage of time. I’m not generally one to show my emotions, but I found myself moved to tears on several occasions throughout the book; one passage in-particular takes place in Pearl Harbor after the attack.
By the same token, I found myself equally-awed, and- amazed, as well. I could feel the rumble of The Cyclone and hear the music playing across the midway; I could taste the fries and cotton candy, and the sweat, too, dripping off of the brows of amazing people as they prepared to perform death-defying acts for sold-out crowds. I raged over the beatings of protestors during the race demonstrations in the 50’s and I cheered when certain characters overcame their fears.
What really sold PALISADES PARK, for me, was the history Brennert seamlessly meshes into the book. You are literally transported to another time and another place (many, I should say) and you find yourself noting the changing of music, fads, culture, politics and, yes – even comic books (another favorite attribute, of mine) as the decades roll by. And, at the end of the day, you’re left feeling satisfied with the conclusion; if not nostalgic for another ride, another dive, another kiss in the Tunnel of Love…
If you’re looking for a great, fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping, summertime read, checkout PALISADES PARK, and enjoy the ride! I sure did. And – be sure to read the ‘Author’s Notes’ afterwards, as they will make you smile when he unveils the book’s ‘secrets’.
‘Til, next time, see ya ‘out there…’
Lt. Eric Cone