Author: Alan Brennert
Growing up in the 1930s, there is no more magical place than Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey—especially for seven-year-old Antoinette, who horrifies her mother by insisting on the unladylike nickname Toni, and her brother, Jack. Toni helps her parents, Eddie and Adele Stopka, at the stand where they sell homemade French fries amid the roar of the Cyclone roller coaster. There is also the lure of the world’s biggest salt-water pool, complete with divers whose astonishing stunts inspire Toni, despite her mother's insistence that girls can't be high divers.
But a family of dreamers doesn't always share the same dreams, and then the world intrudes: There's the Great Depression, and Pearl Harbor, which hits home in ways that will split the family apart; and perils like fire and race riots in the park. Both Eddie and Jack face the dangers of war, while Adele has ambitions of her own—and Toni is determined to take on a very different kind of danger in impossible feats as a high diver. Yet they are all drawn back to each other—and to Palisades Park—until the park closes forever in 1971.
Evocative and moving, with the trademark brilliance at transforming historical events into irresistible fiction that made Alan Brennert’s Moloka'i and Honolulu into reading group favorites, Palisades Park takes us back to a time when life seemed simpler—except, of course, it wasn't.
I love an amusement park, all of them and any of them. I even love fairs and festivals and those local fly by night carnivals. Midways, games of chance, rides, French fries, the squeals of excitement, fear, and laughter, families having fun together. For my part of the world, our Palisades Park was Boblo Island, and not a summer goes by that I don’t miss going there.
In high school, we read the poem “A Coney Island Life” by James Weil, and I repeat the lines to myself on occasion – and I kept thinking of the two lines as I read this book – “Having lived a coney island life/on roller coaster ups and downs..” It so perfectly describes the lives of the characters in Palisades Park. It all began with an idyllic visit to the park with his family for Eddie Stopka, when he was just a kid. It became that brass ring of a memory that he wanted to recapture and live in for his whole life
Palisades Park was an amusement park in New Jersey, on the city lines between Cliffside and Fort Lee. It survived through wars and fire from the 1930s to the day it closed its doors in 1971. Eddie and his family are the main focus, although their story includes many other colorful characters.
After living as a hobo for some years, Eddie finds himself back home and drawn to Palisades Park, where he starts his life anew. He marries Adele, has two children, Toni and Jack, and all four of their lives are mixed in with the life of Palisades Park itself. Brennert has a way of combining a small story with the events of the world at large, through all the good times and bad. He does not fail in this when it comes to Palisades Park. You feel the up and down roller coaster emotions of these characters, empathizing and rooting for them. (Except Adele!)
There is just so much to say about this book, but I would prefer not to. I would prefer for you to uncover it the way I did, savoring it like a hot summer day, falling just a bit in love with it.