#BookReview: Queenie’s Place

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My Review of Queenie’s Place

I was immediately drawn into Toni Morgan’s novel, Queenie’s Place, by its story line of a Marine Corps officer’s wife who is a fighter for causes during the early 1970s. When the book opens, we are introduced to Doreen through the eyes of her son Billy as he waits for her at a peace march against the Vietnam War, “ . . . with her Southern California suntan and a personal dress style somewhere between Dallas Cowboy cheerleader and Chelsea Street modern.”

It is no surprise, then, when Doreen’s husband is transferred from California to North Carolina, that Doreen is in for some culture shock. The descriptions of culture shock, starting with a “Welcome to Klan Country” billboard are vividly and realistically drawn. I particularly liked how the stifling heat and humidity in that area of North Carolina were used to underscore the oppressive culture of bigotry Doreen finds herself fighting against when a faction of townspeople try to close down Queenie’s Place, a roadhouse for black Marines.

Doreen becomes involved in Queenie’s cause through chance and a simple act of kindness. Doreen’s car gets a flat tire in front of Queenie’s Place, and she is made to feel welcome. At this point in the story, the first-person narration alternates between Doreen and Queenie.

Hearing Queenie’s story in her own voice takes her from being a “cause” to a living, breathing human being. In fact, the sections where Queenie speaks were my favorite. In addition to her compelling life history, she is warm, genuine, and carries herself with a certain grace. I could see why Doreen was so drawn to her.

I also appreciated that as the story unfolds, Doreen’s youthful idealism is portrayed in all of its complexity and unintended consequences, including its impact on her family and those she has committed herself to helping.

Queenie’s Place is a clear reminder that Jim Crow was not so very long ago, and we all must be vigilant to keep him where he belongs: as a painful footnote in history. I look forward to reading more of Toni Morgan’s engaging and thought-provoking fiction.

The Inspiration for Queenie’s Place

When I contacted Toni Morgan for a photograph to accompany my review, she included a bonus: her inspiration for writing the book!

Like Doreen, I was pretty naïve about life in the south.  My first experience was in 1961 in Florida, where I saw white and colored restrooms and drinking fountains for the first time.  I was appalled. Every night when I left work, I rode a bus with a sign that directed ‘coloreds’ to the rear.  I so wanted to go to the back myself, but didn’t have Rosa Parks’ courage.  Or Doreen’s.

My next experience was in 1973 in North Carolina.  Like Tom, in Queenie’s Place, my husband had just returned from 13 months in Vietnam—he was still have feral.  Unlike after WWII, there was no decompression before men came home.  He came out of the jungle one day, flew in a helicopter to an airbase.  He was home 36 hours after he left the jungle!  Unlike Doreen and Tom, when we drove from the west to the east coast, we had four kids and two dogs with us.  Let’s just say it was an experience.

When we arrived in North Carolina,  outside Goldsboro, we came to a huge advertising sign—Welcome to Klan Country.  Just like Doreen, I was shocked.  Ten years before, I’d seen hints of it, but never so blatant.  We’d had civil rights legislation, for heaven’s sake.  How could people feel justified to have such thoughts?  Oh yeah, North Carolina was pretty much one cultural shock after another. We were there for two years.

When we came back from living in Japan for just shy of four years, my husband was again assigned to a base in North Carolina.  Camp Lejeune rather than Cherry Point.  One day my phone rang.  It was my neighbor.  She said her car had broken down, her husband, an anesthesiologist, was in the operating room, so would I come and pick her up.  She gave me directions, then whispered, “And would you hurry.  This place is kind of strange.”  Of course I hurried to pick her up.  The place was a few miles out of town. It didn’t really look that strange from the outside.  Marigolds along the front.  A swing hanging from a tree branch.  It was a brothel.

We giggled all the way home, laughing about what we’d tell our husbands that night.  But I thought about those women for many years, wondering what their lives had been like, what had brought them to that place. And I always regretted that I hadn’t had the nerve to make a statement on the bus when I was younger. So I created a character in Doreen who experienced some of the things I had over the years, but had the courage to do something about it.  I also changed Queenie’s Place to a roadhouse rather than a brothel, but it is still a homage to those women. Also, I should say, to military spouses all over and the Queenie’s, whether black, white, yellow or red, are trying to find their rightful place in the world.


83 thoughts on “#BookReview: Queenie’s Place

  1. Liz, it sounds like a great book. Definitely a great review. And what a bonus to hear the author’s thoughts — including how her novel, like many others, has some autobiographical inspiration.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Great post! I enjoyed hearing the authors inspirations, how she merged life experience with what she would like to have had the courage to do. On a personal note I can totally relate to experiencing constant culture shock when in the U.S. South and in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Part of my shock is from the way brown, black people – and female or gay people – are treated. Another part is the anti-science, anti-intellectual presumptions. Still another part is the firm belief (in gov, and by the people) that there should not be any sort of social safety net (no or low taxes) while simultaneously having high rates of poverty, substandard housing, lack of healthcare, sanitation etc social structures that a social safety net provides – people in those areas did/do complain about not having those safety net things – and yet people never see or admit a relationship between the two concepts or the taxes that help provide the quality of modern life.
    Anyway – great book review! Got me thinking! Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Sue! I know exactly what you mean about the disconnect with some groups not getting the connection between taxes and the social safety net. My biggest experience of culture shock was when I taught high school in the mid-1980s at a small, segregationist academy in rural Virginia. The people behaved as if the Civil War had never ended. It was very strange. I lasted two years. The school closed the year after I left. (No cause-and-effect there .)


      1. Goodness!! That you lasted 2 years is a remarkable testament to your fortitude. I’ve been following a historian named Heather Cox Richardson – she has a new book titled “How the South won the Cival War”. It’s helping me understand how/why that war lingers and affects us today …. Oh too much to go into here. Let me just say you’d probably appreciate Heather Cox Richardson’s lectures (and book) too. All the best to you!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The topics of the book stay relevant (unfortunately, in some cases), and I love it that Toni not only addresses racism, discrimination, and fear head-on but also honors military spouses and the difficulties they can have fitting in as they’re dropped into different and sometimes inhospitable environments. My mother was a military spouse for twenty-one years, so that part of it rings very true to me.

    Adding it to my buy-soon cart. Thanks, Liz!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The first word that came to mind as I read your book review was: Redemption. There are moments in my life that are forever in my memory that I would do differently. I imagine that I would be more compassionate, have more empathy, pause before acting. Now, when I face a difficult situation, I remember those “wish I could do over” moments and seek a clearer, more holistic response. This book allows the author and reader to reflect, to do better because we have learned. And in so doing, we are reconciled with ourselves and the world around us. A wonderful post and great discussion.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you for your thought-provoking comments, Rebecca. “Redemptive” is a good word to describe Queenie’s Place, particularly the ending. Redemption is a favorite theme of mine in literature, wondering whether this character will recognize that moment when redemption is possible and act on it.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I enjoyed reading your reviews, Liz. It showed this is a great book. I also appreciated Toni’s story behind the book. It’s wonderful the she created a character and events to resolve her own thoughts and feelings.

    Thank you for sharing the review, Liz.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sounds like an excellent read, Liz. I like Morrison’s storytelling and haven’t picked up this one. I find racism so very disturbing and nonsensical. And it seems to be alive and well. Reads like this one are important. Thanks for sharing your review and recommendation.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It is an excellent read, Diana. I agree with you about racism. And after all the sacrifices made by the people in the Civil Rights Movement, we shouldn’t be where we are today. I guess we’ll just have to keep fighting.


  9. This is an excellent review, the kind that makes one eager to read the book. Toni’s addition was a big bonus. Stories of people coming to the south in the 60’s in contrast to people growing up in the south are particularly interesting. I grew up in the south. I remember when my cousin called and told me I had to read “The Help.” She knew. And of course I read it.

    So, I often try to pinpoint when I changed, understood. I have so many stories, BK and AK (before knowing and after knowing). Toni understands. I look forward to reading her book. By the way, the most diverse group, with understanding and acceptance, is the military. They are a band of brothers and sisters, and have to work together and respect each other. You already know that. Thank you, Liz.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Jennie, and sharing some of your experience. I also read The Help, mainly because I’d heard about it and my paternal grandmother had a black maid. I thought The Help was flawed as a novel. I just didn’t buy the scatological episode, and I thought it cheapened the novel.

      My dad was active in the Civil Rights movement, so that was a bit part of my childhood. I remember his reading Huckleberry Finn to my brother and me when we were in third and fourth grade. He told us specifically that he was reading it to us so that we would understand that Jim was the redemptive figure in the novel.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are welcome, Liz. How wonderful that your dad read aloud Huckleberry Finn, making sure you understood Jim. I wish I could say that was the same way of thinking for my upbringing. Nope. There was a true racist attitude, nothing mean or unkind, just a way of thinking. So, it was up to me to learn and see and change. Perhaps that made me a stronger person. I understand your viewpoint on The Help. Thank you, Liz.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Liz, I’m very glad you did this review at this time, and included the author’s candid personal comments about what inspired it. It sounds like a book well worth reading, in that it seems to share the perspective of both women and the naivete of the author herself at that time. We each have a role to play to create a society that provides equal rights, opportunity and justice for all, and to do that, we may have to examine our own selves to find out which it is.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It sounds like a book worth a read though I have never heard of the author before. Thank you for adding the back story. Made the review that much more interesting.

    Also, I just finished reading Man’s Search For Meaning which was very impactful in reshaping my thinking pattern, especially now that we are at home with time to ‘think’. You can read here if you are interested: https://kendikarimi.com/2020/06/03/how-to-find-a-meaning-in-life/

    I’ll look for the book. Thanks. 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

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