If you’re still searching for the perfect beach read, look no further. Alan Brennert brings to life the crowds, the screams from the roller coaster, the heat of a summer’s day, and the dazzling lights at night on the midway in his fact-based novel. Yes, we’re talking that Palisades Park, with the big sign perched on the New Jersey cliffs, the catchy song, and the generations of merrymakers saddened by the long-running amusement park’s closure in 1971. In the 1930s, Eddie Stopka is one of the park’s concessionaires, with a successful French fry stand that he runs with his wife, Adele. They have two children, Toni and Jack, and all seems perfect. The Great Depression and the Second World War bring changes, both to their business and personal lives, and Eddie joins the navy as Adele is left to run the stand on her own and wonder about her own lost career dreams.
The younger generation has its troubles, too, as Toni is intent on becoming a high diver (“not ladylike,” says Adele). The park is the backdrop for the family’s angst and triumphs, and undergoes trials of its own, with accidents, changes in ownership, and struggles to provide ever newer rides and exciting entertainment. Readers get a snapshot of America from the 1930s to the 1970s, as seen in both the visitors and the employees, and the scenes reflecting the turbulence of the Civil Rights era are particularly well-drawn. Mostly, though, the park is, as Eddie says, “a place where you could forget the mess that’s going on in the world, or the heartaches you’ve got in your life.” Palisades Park pulls this family together, time after time, and will pull readers in, as well.