The Palace of Strange Girls
This engaging novel takes place during the summer of 1959 in the resort of Blackpool, England. Seven-year-old Beth is there with her family, her parents Ruth and Jack, and her 16-year-old sister, Helen, who would have much preferred to stay home and work at the dress shop. Ruth has iron-clad rules, not only for Beth, who recently underwent a heart operation and whose health is uncertain, but also for Helen, who is eager to join in the fun of other adolescents who have far more freedom than she does. There are also tensions between Ruth and Jack, exacerbated by a letter Jack has just received from the woman he loved when he was in Crete during World War II, and whom he believed to be dead. Each chapter is prefaced by an item from Beth’s I-Spy at the Seaside book, which has become her favorite possession, and she strives to earn enough points to qualify for an official membership card issued by Big Chief I-Spy. The correspondence between the quote and the action in each chapter is fun to identify.
The author skillfully interweaves details of what things were like in 1959 to fully transport us to that period. I particularly enjoyed learning more about the cotton manufacturing trade, in which Jack is employed. The effect that imports and new synthetic fabrics had on the cotton firms and on those employed by the companies came across vividly. There is an endorsement on the book from Easy Living: “This might just be the most delightful book you read this year.” I’ll second that.