Review of The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose GwinThe Queen Of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin
Published by HarperCollins on 2010-04-27
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

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.

The pitch I was sent for The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin compared the book to The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Of course, I accepted. However, I would like to put this out there, I think that the comparison hinders The Queen of Palmyra. The only thing the two novels share is the same era and state. The Queen of Palmyra focuses on a little girl named Florence Irene Forrest. Florence is what those of us who are uncouth call white trash. Her family is poor, her dad is scary, and her mom finds solutions at the bottom of a bottle. Florence became eyewitness to the violence which plagued Mississippi during the 1960s.

The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin  hurt to read. I did not devour this book as I did The Help. This is because The Queen of Palmyra was so painful. I do not mean painful as in, oh what a horrid, horrid book. I mean painful in the way that reading about emotional abuse and neglect and what I felt were allusions to sexual abuse does not feel refreshing or uplifting. It just feel heavy. I absolutely could feel for Flo, though. She seemed to always be on the outside of everything. She was never able to completely fit in. She tries so hard to become close with a family of color, who are servants to her rich grandparents, however, there’s a divide between them. With the violence of the South, I can’t exactly blame Zenie, the woman who is head of the family Flo tries to fit into.
I thought the racism of the era was palpable in this novel, it always felt dangerous. Afterall, there was a consistent undercurrent of fear, especially when it came to scenes with Flo’s father, Winston. He is utterly terrifying. He’s the embodiment of what I picture the KKK to be. He’s ill educated. He is rude. He threatens those he believes to be less than him. He describes himself to be like a white knight protecting the virtue of his little girl. Completely disgusting.
However, the theme I took the most away from The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin was that of interpersonal relationships. One could see how Flo was an island, and essentially remained one. Yes, there were times when she tried to reach out to people, but it seemed that no one fully gave themselves over to her. I always felt she lingered. She didn’t fit in with the children because of her family background. She didn’t fit in at Zenie’s because of her father. I thought she grew up too fast because of her solitude, and what can I say, I felt terrible for her. I think it’s horrible to lose your childhood so quickly.
The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin is not an uplifting story. You won’t walk away from this book with a love of humanity. But perhaps you’ll walk away for it with consideration of the suffering of others.
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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. Wonderful, truthful review. I am curious about this book, now.

  2. Sometimes you just need one of these books to help ground your body instead of those fluffy books that take on clouds. However, I'm still not sure if I'll pick this up. Not because of your review, which I love, but because reading about racism just leaves a nasty taste in my mouth and angers me too much xD

  3. Wow, this sounds like a very intense and difficult book. I agree books like these are not easy to read, but sometimes they're very important.

  4. I love your final line, April. I couldn't ask more of a book.

  5. This book is next up on my list of books to read, and after this review, I'm wondering if I should maybe put it off a bit longer, since things in my life are sort of up in the air all over the place right now.
    But then, maybe that's the best time to read it.
    It does sound wonderful.


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