Title: The Palace of Strange Girls
Author: Sallie Day
Release Date: September 9, 2009
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
From the publisher’s website:
Blackpool, England, 1959. The Singleton family is on holiday. For seven-year-old Beth, just out of the hospital, this means struggling to fill in her ‘I-Spy’ book and avoiding her mother Ruth’s eagle-eyed supervision. Her sixteen-year-old sister Helen, meanwhile, has befriended a waitress whose fun-loving ways hint at a life beyond Ruth’s strict rules.
But times are changing. As foreman of the local cotton mill, Ruth’s husband, Jack, is caught between unions and owners whose cost-cutting measures threaten an entire way of life. And his job isn’t the only thing at risk. When a letter arrives from Crete, a secret re-emerges from the rubble of Jack’s wartime past that could destroy his marriage.
As Helen is tempted outside the safe confines of her mother’s stern edicts with dramatic consequences, an unexpected encounter inspires Beth to forge her own path. Over the holiday week, all four Singletons must struggle to find their place in the shifting world of promenade amusements, illicit sex, and stilted afternoon teas in this touching and evocative novel.
The Palace of Strange Girls is a character driven novel that takes place over a week in Blackpool, England. The Singleton family is tranquil on the surface, attentive to Beth and her needs, making sure that she recovers fully from her hospital stay. However, underneath, there is much more going on than meets the eye,
The Palace of Strange Girls is a slow read, though it picks up once the reader gets to know the characters a bit better. Since this is a character driven novel, it’s very important to connect with the people in it. I really loved Beth. She was sweet and young, wanting to live and be free when all her mother wanted to do was hold her back. She was an incredibly well-written, layered character who was easy to love.
Unfortunately, I had trouble connecting with any of the other characters, and they are the real driving force of the story. All of them were self-centered and difficult to like. Ruth was controlling, materialistic, and way too status-obsessed, while Jack was preoccupied with himself and what he wanted, rather than considering how things impacted his family. Helen was headstrong and unwilling to listen to anything her parents say. While she was written as a very believable teenager, she still was frustrating and difficult to like.
Additionally, The Palace of Strange Girls had a tendency to jump in time without any warning for the reader. One paragraph would be the present, and the next would be in the past – it was very confusing. It would have been easier if there had been some sort of indication when the novel was moving to a flashback.
Had this been a novel about overcoming adversity or the characters becoming better people, it might have worked. However, as it stands, I found it to be a slow novel that’s difficult to read because of the characters in it. But if you’re interested in England in the 1950’s, you might still enjoy this book!