After reading The Palace of Strange Girls, you won’t need to have had a close family yourself to understand the true meaning of what a family is all about. The scene is set in the late 1950’s on vacation in Blackpool, England. Ruth Singleton and her family enjoy the strict routine that has become their holiday away. Ruth’s husband, Jack, is waiting for word of whether his job will end or whether he will have an opportunity for a new beginning. He is also harboring a secret, one that he has chosen to keep locked away from his wife and family. He is hiding a letter, with news from his past double life. The news has the ability to destroy his family, and each day is an effort to keep the letter hidden from his wife.
The Singletons’ daughters are 16-year old Helen and seven-year-old Beth. Like any teenager, Helen is routinely testing the boundaries of her burgeoning independence. She learns hard lessons and enjoys her new attempts at freedom, away from the watchful eye of her mother. Beth is sickly and is made to wear woolen jumpers in the summer heat. She often succumbs to her mother’s efforts to keep her close and has little opportunity to develop her own personality.
By the end of the story, the reader comes to see the family as it really is – which is more than slightly dysfunctional. But this flaw is what makes them so charming, and the reader will find something in common with each character. The family is not able to heal itself, and the problems by the end of the book are not necessarily solved to complete resolution. However, young Beth makes the most progress of them all, as she learns the lessons of self-acceptance, and understands where she ultimately belongs in her family and in the space of her own small world.
Poppy graduated with a JD from the Michael Moritz College of Law. She worked in several NYC law departments before realizing she’d rather be teaching. After a decade of teaching Business Studies courses, she decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, managing client content from comedy to marketing, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.