I've enjoyed every single novel I've read by Brennert, and while I always buy them as soon as I see them, they tend to end up lost in my unread stacks of books for months at a time. I think this may be because as much as I know I can depend on a solid, reliable and informative novel, he is also comfort food. The narrative and the people will face challenges, and generally, overcome them, even if they face loss and years of struggle. He's great at providing description and bringing a setting to life, making the reader want to travel to Hawai'i or, in this case, an old amusement park in New Jersey. In essence, he's a writer you save for when you want a good read that spans years, but when you don't necessarily expect something groundbreaking. Once again, he succeeds in delivering a good novel that just seems to completely encapsule the time and place he is describing, though I also think that this one is even more about the place than the characters. Compared to Rachel and Jin of Moloka'i and Honolulu respectively, the Stopkas don't leave much of an impression. They are merely a way to chronicle the park, and its various colorful people, rides and concessions.
However, while the Stopka family may be placeholders more than anything else, they still have a generally engaging, if predictable and fortunate story. Unlike Brennert's previous novels, there doesn't appear to be much struggle for Eddie, Adele and their two children Toni and Jack (Jack's war experience being one exception). Eddie finds and keeps a job during the Great Depression, and he and Adele have a quick but simple romance. Together they rise from clerks at concession booths to owners. Basically, even when bad things happen, they tend to overcome them rather quickly and easily. Toni ends up being the main character, a young girl that grew up around the Palisades Park, spent her summers in the pool with various historical figures of the Park as her friends and adult figures in her life. Surrounded by a carnie life of sorts, she dreams of being a high diver.
Though the story itself is a simple story about middle class Americans living and working at an amusement park, it is all the surrounding detail that makes the story. Many of the performances, acts and people mentioned in the novel actually were a part of the park. Brennert, having grown up in Jersey and visited the park as a child, even gives a shot out to the man that owned the corner store where he bought his comic books. It is in all these minor characters that the novel comes to life and distinguishes itself. After reading this, I wanted to go to Palisades Park and have some french fries from a concession stand, and later have a hot dog from one of the local neighborhood diners. I would definitely recommend this book for someone that just wants a novel that transports them to another time and place, where things turns out well if people work for them, and a story that provides a glimpse of a place that once was.