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Virginia Kress

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The Queen of Palmryra

The Queen of Palmryra
Minrose Gwin
Harper Perennial
Publish date: 2010-05-01


This book is an absolute PERFECT choice for fans of Lesley Kagen. Set in 1963 in the small town of Millwood, Mississippi, this novel is a coming of age story full of racial tension, confusion and strife. Millwood's white population (predominantly blue collar) rarely ventures into 'Shake Rag', where the blacks live. Unless that is, you are member of the hyper vigilant Klan or one precocious young lady by the name of Florence Forest who intuitively senses the innate wrongness of the world around her.

After Flo's cake baking mother essentially falls off the face of the earth, her brutal clan member father starts exhibiting even more cruel and inappropriate behavior.

While he openly despises the black community and is not overly fond of Flo's grandparents, he seems pretty ok with them raising his daughter while he's off strong-arming the poor blacks into parting with weekly payments for burial insurance. So, Flo is ultimately raised by a loving grandmother and a no-nonsense black woman named Zenie whose is named after 'Zenobia' the Queen of Palmrya. While raisin Flo with a firm but loving hand she regales the child with stories of the legendary Queen's courage and cunning.

As Flo bears witness to the abject unfairness of her times she sees quite clearly how the blacks in her community are kept in their place. But despite the level of fear and outright hatred they endure on a daily basis, there remains a proud dignity among these people that can only be admired. Flo also comes to realize the harsh reality that while people can continually strive for happiness some folks will do well to be content with simply 'being content'.

Ms. Gwin has an uncanny knack for character depth and development. She clearly evokes a time and place in history that few can be proud of. She so engrosses and transports her reader you can almost feel the nervous sweat and pounding hearts of her characters as the story reaches it's shattering conclusion.