The smell of waffles, fries and cotton candy! The taste of the salt from the swimming pool and wind in your hair! Day or night, Palisades Park is lit up and just the place to be every summer.
For the Stopka family, the park is their home from opening day until the last days of summer. Eddie and Adele each love the park for their own reasons, and fall in love while working concession booths across the Midway from one another. Marrying on the park’s carrousel, it is no surprise that their children Antoinette “Toni” and Jack grow up enjoying the park just as much.
The story revolves around Palisades Park during the Depression, World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Historical plights like racism are touched on, as well as mobsters that buy out the police and other officials.
The heart of the story is the Stopkas and their dreams that are lit by the lights of Palisades Park. For Eddie it is having a family of his own while providing for them and Adele yearns for the spotlight just like when she was a childhood actress. Toni spends her time at the Palisades Pool and hopes to witness a dive one day from the top, not just as a spectator. Pen in hand, her younger brother Jack draws the superheroes that once comforted him during WWII radio shows.
The carneys and travelling acts the family meets every summer add to the variety of characters at Palisades Park, and some even become an extended family. These colorful acts sometimes support the Stopkas, but also add to the trials and difficulties the family goes through to reach their own dreams.
The novel is a great piece of historical fiction. Palisades Park was a real place that East Coasters spent their summers at up until the 1970s, and I don’t doubt that a family like the Stopkas were a part of the park’s history. If you need a little something to gear you up for summer fun in the sun, this one is it.