Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Queen of Palmyra” as Want to Read:
The Queen of Palmyra
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Queen of Palmyra

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  1,064 Ratings  ·  209 Reviews

"I need you to understand how ordinary it all was..."

In the turbulent southern summer of 1963, Millwood's white population steers clear of "Shake Rag," the black section of town. Young Florence Forrest is one of the few who crosses the line. The daughter of a burial insurance salesman with dark secrets and the town's "cake lady," whose backcountry bootleg runs lead f

Kindle Edition, 574 pages
Published (first published April 10th 2010)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Queen of Palmyra, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Queen of Palmyra

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Mar 18, 2010 April rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The pitch I was sent for The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin compared the book to The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Of course, I accepted. However, I would like to put this out there, I think that the comparison hinders The Queen of Palmyra. The only thing the two novels share is the same era and state. The Queen of Palmyra focuses on a little girl named Florence Irene Forrest. Florence is what those of us who are uncouth call white trash. Her family is poor, her dad is scary, and her mom finds sol ...more
Aug 01, 2010 E rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is voice. This is place. This is style - writing at once powerful, lyrical, poignant, precise, melancholy, true to its source. Imagery flows naturally and easily - rainwater down a hill. I do not usually choose to read books with precocious, pre-teen protagonists. The older I get, the less interested I am in the device. But 11-year-old Florence is the perfect window on this summer of '63, small-town Mississippi story. The age of on-the-cusp, between child and teenager, between naivete and u ...more
A well-written book about a young girl's experience in the Good Ol' American South, but not exactly captivating. Although the author surely did extensive research on it, essentially, there is something that isn't 60s Southern in the prose - hence the 3 stars.
This isn't a very likable book - it hurts in the same way that The Color Purple hurts, only Florence is white, not black. Growing up just a hair north of white trash, in Mississippi during the '60s can't have been easy; having an abusive father who hates blacks and a drunkard mother who doesn't mind them is even more difficult.

Flo's story hits all the notes you expect from a story about those types of people. Unlike The Help, the voices don't always ring true in part because often you get the g
Mar 19, 2010 Ti rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Short of It:

I loved this book. The story deals with some heavy themes but as it unfolds, it sort of falls gently upon your shoulders and really allows you to experience it and take it in.

The Rest of It:

To be clear, I really loved this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened its pages but what I found inside was a real treat. Sometimes you fall in love with a book because of the writing. Other times, you fall in love with the characters or while reading it, you just find yourself lin
Apr 07, 2011 Mackay rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-literary
I've seen the other reviews--compared to Harper Lee, compared to Alice Walker...I disagree. This book, for this reader, was tedious, unenlightening, without a credible narrator, and without much to redeem the dreary hours spent reading it. Everything in it has been done and done far better; there is no catharsis, no deepening of one's understanding of the time (early sixties), the place (the deep South), or the issues (racial prejudice, the growth of the civil rights movement).

The narrator, ala
Jun 07, 2010 Audrey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Minrose Gwin is one of those writers that just knows what she's doing. It doesn't seem like she just woke up one day and decided to write a book. It seems more like she worked hard at it and studied and learned how to become a writer. Which is a good thing. Her prose felt so perfect and natural that it just seemed like it had to have been learned. No one with that amount of talent could have just "decided to have a book" and miraculously have it turn out as the Queen of Palmyra. It is just too w ...more
Kathy (Bermudaonion)
After a year of wandering with her family, Florence Forrest is growing up in segregated Millwood, Mississippi in the early 1960′s. Her father sells burial insurance and her alcoholic mother is the town’s “cake lady”. Florence’s mother comes from an educated, enlightened background and her father is a member of the Klan, so their relationship is troubled.

Because of her parents’ problems and the tense atmosphere at home, Florence spends most of her time with her grandmother’s maid, Zenie. Spending
Nov 17, 2010 Jacqueline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The writing is beautiful. The story is told through the eyes of an 11 year old child, Florence. The conflicts going on around Florence, both internally & externally are so heavy and complicated. Even though the reader is clued in to what is happening with her family problems and the community's race war, we are shown how the STORY is told from Florence's innocent, naive eyes. She does not understand everything that is going on around her, she cannot yet piece together the whole story that wi ...more
Jane Rose
Feb 25, 2014 Jane Rose rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have just finished reading The Queen of Palmyra. It is hard to say I enjoyed the book because it is a difficult read because of the life of Flo. A mother who deserts here and a father who is abusive. The times it was set in were hard times. I thought they were portrayed well. Throughout the book there is a feeling of doom and bad things about to happen. You could feel the heat of a long summer through the writing and Flo's striving to understand the world in which she finds herself.
Sep 03, 2010 Tracie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What I read was good, but I am giving it 2 stars because I just can't get past page 100... there are so many details and it feels like the book isn't going anywhere. It is hard to keep picking up the book and continue reading it. I can't finish the book.
Mrs. Lapacka
Parts of this book contained beautiful prose, but it dragged in parts. It is well worth a read, but stay away from it if you're in the mood for something light. Beware...It will make you want cake.
Pam Marriott
Jan 23, 2017 Pam Marriott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was so struck with the effortless writing of Minrose Gwin in this fluidly unfolding story of young Florence. I fell in love with her. The characters were so well drawn and my emotions were heightened with love, sympathy, fear and anxiety as I learned more of her marginalized world and the hidden, foreboding tale of those around her in her segregated, southern town.
May 24, 2010 Marie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In The Queen of Palmyra, eleven-year-old Florence lives in Millwood, a segregated town in Mississippi. Her mother is the neighbourhood cake lady, who secretly visits the bootlegger. Her father is a burial insurance salesman, who goes to secret meetings at night. During the day, they leave Florence in the care of her grandparents' maid, Zenie. Florence sees how segregation affects those around her, but things really heat up Eva, Zenie's niece, comes to town, in this sensational coming of age stor ...more
Apr 27, 2010 Diane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Queen of Palmyra, the debut novel by Minrose Gwin, will find a welcome audience in fans of Kathryn Stockett's The Help.

Both books are set in Mississippi in the 1960s, and deal with the changing relationship between blacks and whites. While The Help is told from the viewpoint of four narrators, The Queen of Palmyra is told by twelve-year-old Florence Forrest.

Florence is the daughter of Win, a burial insurance salesman who also happens to be a rabid Klansman. Her mother Martha drinks to excess
Jan 07, 2010 Kari rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: southern-fiction
Minrose Gwin (which, can I start out by saying how awesome of a name that is??) takes the reader to a dark place with The Queen of Palmyra, a chronicle of the summer of 1963 in small-town Mississippi from the perspective of 11-year-old Florence Forrest. The white residents of Millwood, Mississippi, have little to do with the black side of town, or "Shake Rag" as it's come to be called. In a town split by black and white, Florence can't figure out what belongs where.

Florence lives in a house buil
Mar 22, 2010 Beth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Queen of Palmayra was Zenobia, a Syrian warrior queen who led a revolt against Rome and conquered and ruled over Egypt. She was said to be beautiful, intelligent and hold her own against men. Her story fascinates young Florence, the protagonist of the novel, The Queen of Palmyra, who relates events she doesn't fully understand - her father's inability to hold a job, her mother's drinking, the racial tensions of the deep South in the 1960s. After a year on the move, this dysfunctional family ...more
Apr 12, 2010 Melody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have heard that The Queen of Palmyra has been compared to Kathryn Stockett's The Help, which got me pretty excited because I have heard lots of ravings about that book. Back to The Queen of Palmyra, I have to say Minrose Gwin's writing style is absolutely beautiful (see above quote) and I was most surprised that this is in fact her debut novel.

Set in the 1960s, The Queen of Palmyra focus on the delicate issue between the black and the white community in Millwood, Mississippi, through the eye o
Apr 24, 2010 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: Trish
Shelves: review-copy
I received this book for free from the publisher. All content and opinions are my own.

It's the 1960s.  Florence is twelve.  Her mother provides for the family by baking amazing cakes but drinks too much.  Her father is an abusive racist who has a secret pastime that takes him out at all hours.  Her grandparents live nearby, but she is often foisted upon Zenie, their black maid, and her family.  As the events of a volatile summer play out before her, Florence is shown the great divide between the
May 18, 2010 Amanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, arc, asked
The Queen of Palmyra takes place that fateful summer in 1963 in Mississippi when temperatures got to record breaking highs, JFK and Medgar Evers were assassinated, and the country's racial tensions were at an all time high.

Florence Forrest is a young white girl and it is the summer between her fourth and fifth year in school. However, she is way behind in studies because for the past year, her father and mother have been on the "lam" as she calls it, traveling around while her father unsuccessfu
May 09, 2010 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From My Blog...

A tale of strong women during exceedingly trying times, The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin, is a heart-breaking story about the ignorance that did more than divide a town. Set in 1963 Millwood, Mississippi, the story describes a heavily segregated town divided into three sections, Millwood "proper", Milltown where the white working poor lived and Shake Rag on the south side of the colour line of town. Florence Forrest, who at the beginning of the novel is eleven years old, narra
Jun 22, 2010 Elizabeth☮ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recent-reads
i entered to win this book on the giveaways and even though i didn't win a copy, i felt it fair to list it as a first read since that's where i first encountered it.

the front cover has a snippit of a review comparing this to To Kill A Mockingbird. that's some big shoes to fill. and although Gwin does a an excellent job of slowly developing her main characters, it doesn't quite make the comparison.

but i feel it's strong in its own way. the story revolves around florence forrest growing up in mis
Jan 10, 2015 Kkraemer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is utterly fascinating. While the "outside" story -- the tensions and changes of the summer of 1963 in in a small family in a small town in Mississippi -- is most interesting, it's actually the voice of the narrator that moves this book onto the shelves of the greats. Florence is 11, and she has been raised in a world where grown-up opinions and rants and criticisms are kept from the young, so she is naive. She's old enough to be irritated by those around her, but not old enough to thi ...more
Feb 02, 2011 Debbie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a tragic story! It is similar to The Help in that the author grew up in MS and according to her, experienced the white side of this story and observed the black side. The characters are fictional, however, one character is based on the author's babysitter as a child. While I enjoyed The Help, this story captivated me sooner and was more riveting. It is told from the eyes of 10 year old Florence Irene Forrest. It is 1963 and she is living in Millwood, MS. Her mother is the town "cake lady" a ...more
Augusta Scattergood
Young Florence Forrest’s father has failed at yet another job, and her mother, Martha, insists they return to the family’s hometown where Martha’s cake business will support them.
So they return to Millwood, Mississippi, surrounded by grandparents as well as situations Florence struggles to understand. Why is her mother making late-night trips to the Black bootlegger in town? Where does her father go to his clandestine evening meetings?

With both parents completely incapable of caring for her, 11
Feb 19, 2012 Janie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I stayed up way too late last night to finish this. This is a story of a young girl in Mississippi in 1963. The story is told in retrospect by Florence who lives with her father and mother. Florence and her family come alive through her dialog as she tries to make sense of her world and the people in it. Her father is a failure at one enterprise after another and her mother tries to keep things together by baking and selling cakes. The grandmother's long time African-American maid is left in cha ...more
Susan Williams
Sep 11, 2014 Susan Williams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written book I wanted to give five stars had it not been so dark, The Queen of Palmyra is similar to the Help and to Kill a Mockingbird with an edge. Florence is the daughter of the town "cake lady" and the "burial insurance man". Both have a dark side, Mom slides into drunkenness dragging Flo along with her to the bootlegger's but Dad is a nightmare, abusive in many ways and a Klansman to boot.
Her dysfunctional parents dump Florence on her grandparents and in turn, on their Africa
May 18, 2010 Wendy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
This was another Goodreads giveaway that I really liked. This was a very dark book dealing with a town in the South during the early 1960's as racial tensions grew out of control. The main character is Florence, a girl about to enter into 5th grade, who lives with her mother (the town cake lady) and her father who is the head of the Klan in their town. Florence is greatly influenced by Zenie, her grandparents' maid and also her caretaker over the summer. Zenie is black and lives in the section o ...more
Jul 07, 2010 Libby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mississippi, 1963. A much grittier book than "The Help" and was more representative of race relations, especially how black characters react to the white ones, and class differences.

The point of view character is an eleven-year-old girl, Florence, whose mother is the "cake lady," and her father sells burial insurance to African-Americans. Both parents have dark secrets. The mother came from a more middle-class family than the father. The father is disliked by most of the town and Florence is co
Apr 02, 2010 G rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Without sharing most of the details with you, it is quite hard for me to explain how brilliantly layered this book is without giving away any of its secrets. You would be amazed at the horror trapped beneath Florence’s eating problems and black outs. Florence, as every child living in a tense and violent home, has a story that is so dark and twisty, it even impresses upon me (a survivor of horror at home myself) the depth of violence she had to face before the fifth grade. Trust me, this was a b ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Swan's Chance (Wild Swan Trilogy, #2)
  • How to Save Your Own Life: 15 Lessons on Finding Hope in Unexpected Places
  • Sanctuary Hill (Bay Tanner, #7)
  • The Outside Boy
  • Midnight Fires (Mary Wollstonecraft, #1)
  • The Book of Peach
  • Savannah by the Sea
  • As Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank Me
  • The Tapestry of Love
  • Salting Roses
  • The Language of Secrets
  • Catfish Alley
  • Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger
  • Driving the King
  • Diamond Ruby
  • The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove
  • Life After Yes
  • Cold Rock River
Minrose Gwin is a writer, scholar, and educator. Her most recent books are a novel, The Queen of Palmyra (Harper Collins/Harper Perennial) and a memoir, Wishing for Snow (HarperCollins/Harper Perennial). She lives in Chapel Hill, NC, and teaches literature and creative writing at the University of North Carolina and fiction and creative nonfiction workshops at the University of New Mexico Taos Wri ...more
More about Minrose Gwin...

Share This Book

“That's just it, Eva said with a gleam in her eyes that matched the rhinestones on her glasses, you had to get somebody to teach you, to facilitate. Literacy wasn't like a piece of my mama's lemon cake you handed over to somebody on a plate.” 4 likes
More quotes…