Review: The Palace of Strange Girls by Sallie Day

the palace of strange girlsHer favorite story is about an orphan who is adopted by a cruel family who ignores her and are unkind. The orphan doesn’t realize it, but really she’s a princess who has been hidden away to keep her safe. One day a prince comes to the door and claims her, and she leaves the nasty house and moves to the palace where she belongs. Beth is entranced by the story. She reads it again and again, and traces the pictures with her finger. She is interested in becoming an orphan.
The Palace of Strange Girls – Sallie Day

The Palace of Strange Girls is Sallie Day’s debut novel. Day grew up in England and her father ran a cotton mill, so it stands to reason why the father in this book also works in a cotton mill. Strange Girls revolves around the Singleton family on their holiday in July 1959. By all outward appearances they are your typical family living in the recession of the late 50′s. Ruth, mom and wife, runs her house the way all housewives should: with a dust mop and financially iron fist. Husband/father Jack is dependable and hardworking. Teenage daughter Helen obeys her parents’ every command, and youngest daughter Beth tries to be normal with her abnormal childhood. Ruth tries her best to make her family as status quo and typical as possible, but there are secrets underneath the pretty polka-dot facade, and she can’t keep them hidden if she doesn’t know what they are.

It took me a while to be attracted to Strange Girls. The beginning felt sluggish and unformed. By the middle I was used to the flashbacks which help paint the hidden secrets behind the Singleton family, and I was able to start really enjoying the story. The characters were interesting and individual; I enjoyed the tense atmostphere surrounding Ruth, and the pity I felt for Beth who is just trying to be a fun little girl with her I-Spy book. The voice has a nice shift to it depending on which character you’re reading about. Each chapter title is an I-Spy item with description, which is both adorable and lighthearted, but turns appropriately serious for the later conflict.

I liked the Singleton family and their flaws and the people that surround them. I could clearly visualize Blackpool and the boardwalk and smell the ocean salt. I thought it was a nice, easygoing story, though the end felt incomplete, and the epilogue served as a convenient wrap-up for a few loose strings. I enjoyed the tension between the characters, but felt that it wasn’t fully utilized in the beginning. The flashbacks were good, but also felt like another story that could have been written separate from Strange Girls,one that I probably would have liked better. Overall, I enjoyed Sallie Day’s debut novel and can really see her potential, but it felt like someone who hadn’t been writing for that long. I have a feeling her next work will be more polished and I look forward to seeing what she does. 3 stars.

“‘We’re doing the best that we can for the girls. You can’t expect romance after all these years. It’s like everything else–you’ve got to compromise. That’s what living with someone boils down to in the end, isn’t it? After all the fireworks, I mean.’” Ruth – The Palace of Strange  Girls (326)

(I received this book from Hachette Book Group)

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Review: The Palace of Strange Girls by Sallie Day

  1. I have this one on my wish list. Thanks for the review.

  2. Ruth Waterton

    Hi there.

    Came here via your review of “The Swan Thieves” – which I recently finished, and I always like to know what others think.

    Anyway, I found “Palace of Strange Girls” a nostalgic read – I’m called Ruth, I was born in 1959 and, most important, I grew up in Blackpool. I found the background detail very convincing, faultlessly sketched in, which made reading it a delightful experience. It wasn’t so much a recession in Lancashire at that time, rather the beginning of the process of technology, particularly the rise of artificial fibres, superseding the industrial technology that had been the bedrock of the region’s identity and economy for over 100 years.

    My own family didn’t work in the mills, but both my grandmother and her own mother worked in the tailoring workshops of Wigan and Manchester. As for my grandfather on the other side, he spent almost all his life in Blackpool. He was still working in his eighties, as the last practising blacksmith on the Fylde coast. In the 1930s he used to shoe the horses for the Tower Circus and his wife, like so many other Blackpool ladies, ran a boarding house.

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