9 reviews

Palisades Park
by Alan Brennert

Published: 2013-04-09
Hardcover : 421 pages
28 members reading this now
7 clubs reading this now
18 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 9 of 9 members
Bestseller Alan Brennert's spellbinding story about a family of dreamers and their lives within the legendary Palisades Amusement Park


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 ...

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Bestseller Alan Brennert's spellbinding story about a family of dreamers and their lives within the legendary Palisades Amusement Park


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.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.



Atlanta, Georgia, 1930

HOBOES CALLED THEM “side-door Pullmans,” empty boxcars with one door standing open like an unblinking eye—God’s eye, maybe, daring the brave or the desperate to trespass, knowing their journeys could end as easily in jail or in a hospital as in Chillicothe, Ohio, or Casper, Wyoming. Eddie took the dare and ran to the back platform, planting his foot in a metal stirrup and hoisting his six-foot frame up onto the ladder. But before he could step up to the second rung, he felt something grab hold of his shirt collar from behind and pull him, with a violent jerk, away from the car. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

Was there a place like Palisades Park where you grew up? What did it
mean to you?
Was Eddie justified in running away from home? Was he justified in
refusing all contact with his mother and stepfather?
What would you have done?
How was the Palisades “family” of workers and concessionaires like a
real family, and how was it different?
Have you ever had a dream or ambition in life that you never pursued (or did)?
Are you a parent? Would yo
u have encouraged or discouraged your daughter
from pursuing the dangerous life of a high diver?
Can you imagine being a daredevil like Toni? Could you have defied social
conventions of the time to live the life she led?
Do you think Eddie was
right or wrong in enlisting in the Navy? Can you
understand Adele’s angry response to it?
What was your reaction to Adele’s abandonment of her family?
Why did the author include the (true life) role the Mafia played in the
history of the park (e
specially as regards the later civil rights protests)?
How does Toni’s stand against the park’s policy about African
fit in with other incidents in her life?
Jack’s postwar illness was once called “shell shock” and would today be
nosed as post
traumatic stress disorder. How has the treatment of this
veteran’s disability changed (or not) since the Korean War?
Compare and contrast the dreams and desires of each member of the Stopka
family and how they changed over the course
of the story.
Would the lives of Eddie, Adele, Toni and Jack have been different if not
influenced by Palisades Park? How?

Suggested by Members

What are your own pre Disneyland memories of carnivals or parks like Palisades?
What was your impression of the lives of carnival workers before and after reading the book?
by kathygat (see profile) 03/05/14

How did you spend your summers
Did you ever want to run away with the circus
by rhogal (see profile) 01/14/14

What role would the male life guard play with Tony if she were older and is this relationship important to the story?
What was your favorite amusement park as a child and what do you remember most about it?
What does a mothers love mean to Tony and Jack?
by madamespitfire (see profile) 06/30/13

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

"Brennert...creates a real emotional pull in his evocative description of the eccentric, hardworking people who made up the Palisades family in good times and in bad." —Publishers Weekly on Palisades Park

"This nostalgic coming-of-age tale of a little girl with big dreams is the perfect read." —Library Journal on Palisades Park

“A literate, thoughtful saga….Brennert’s tale is a universal one [and] a pleasure to read.” —Kirkus Reviews on Palisades Park

"A sweeping, epic novel . . . beautifully told." —Library Journal (starred) on Honolulu

"A lush tale of ambition, sacrifice, and survival. . . . Immense . . . yet intimate."

—Booklist on Honolulu

“A dazzling historical saga.” —The Washington Post on Moloka'i

"A poignant story." —Los Angeles Times on Moloka'i

"A superb novel." –Los Angeles Daily News on Moloka'i

Book Club Recommendations

Our club also research the early 1900 movie making in Fort Lee NJ.
by valglo1010 (see profile) 05/05/14
Definitely choices for food are sausage\'s and peppers, hot dogs, french fries with vinegar, cheese steak sandwich and served with lemonade.(or a cold beer)
Good read in early summer
by rhogal (see profile) 01/14/14
As a reminder to summer fun ..serve cool summer drinks and hot dogs and picnic food

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Palisades park"by rhoda g. (see profile) 01/14/14

I also grew up near palisades. Park...but in a later time in the 50s....the book gave a great history of the era and the area...in the shadow of NYC and Coney Island ..this park with the fabulous wave... (read more)

  "Mr. Brennert does not disappoint"by liz p. (see profile) 03/31/23

Growing up in Northern New Jersey, Palisades Amusement Park was the place everyone wanted to visit during the summer. With its rides, saltwater pool, concessions, games and the midway there was always... (read more)

by Chagit S. (see profile) 10/03/18

  "Palisades Park"by Cindy L. (see profile) 05/19/16

Great read! Lots of interesting and multi-dimensional characters. Historical fiction and a pleasure to read. Each time I put it down, looked forward to when I could read it again. Book discussion was... (read more)

  "Palisades Park"by valerie g. (see profile) 05/05/14

The nostalgia of Palisades Park and its location is just wonderful. Allan research on the Parks history was right on the mark and a big part of the book. The saga of Stopka family, the hear... (read more)

  "Palisades Park"by Kim L. (see profile) 03/18/14

  "Great read!"by Deb G. (see profile) 03/18/14

Our group loved this one! As one member put it, it was a seamless blend of fact and fiction that made the fictional characters as real as the authentic historical figures. Fun, fun read and great discussion... (read more)

  "Palisades Park"by Kim C. (see profile) 03/06/14

Good Book!

  "Palisades"by Kathy B. (see profile) 03/05/14

  "Well Researched Carnival Life"by Kathy G. (see profile) 03/05/14

The George Washington Bridge goes from New Jersey to New York City. Palisades Park was on the Jersey side of that bridge and author Alan Brennert actually grew up within a mile of that park. This is... (read more)

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