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Book Review: The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Photo by A n v e s h on Unsplash

I got around to reading the book almost 6 months after its original release (July 2nd, 2021), and my only regret after reading it is wishing I’d read it sooner.

The Paper Palace by first-time author Miranda Cowley Heller is an absolute page-turner. It is right down my alley in terms of drama, suspense, strong family and friend relationships — overall providing a wholesome feel-good factor throughout the book.

The Plot

Miranda writes this story spanning decades, managing to seamlessly switch back and forth from the past to the present without confusing the reader. The story revolves around Elle, a now 50-year-old woman who is spending the summer with her husband and kids in Cape Cod, as she did when she was a kid herself.

The flashbacks reveal her life growing up in New York City (something extra exciting for me, having moved to the city myself 7 months ago) as she experiences a myriad of family difficulties. Her parents' divorce, step-parents, step-siblings, sexual abuse, true love, and loss — she’s thrown right in the middle of it all.

Her family spends each summer in Cape Cod — an escape from the busyness of New York. There, she meets Jonas. At first, he’s a shadow, an acquaintance, a close friend, and ultimately the one that got away, bound to Elle by an unimaginable secret. This secret that ties them together is also what’s keeping them apart.

The reader slowly begins to share the weight of the world that Elle feels on her shoulders, as the heaviness of the secrets Elle carries traverse through each page of the book.

Ultimately, the book explains a test of strength and courage. Physical and emotional sacrifices, the meaning of loving someone and being in love with someone, dealing with trauma from the past, and how to do what’s best for yourself and your family.

What I liked/didn’t like

I enjoyed the strength of the story. There wasn’t a single aimless or unimportant chapter. While Miranda describes the summers in Cape Cod, I felt like I was right there with them — lounging on the porch of their paper palace house, swimming in the pond, sailing on the water. There’s nothing I love more than reading vivid descriptions and being fully immersed in the world of the characters.

There was only a small portion of what I didn’t enjoy about the book, predominantly revolving around the sexual abuse included in the story. Not to say I felt its inclusion was wrong, I was just greatly frustrated by the way Elle dealt with various situations surrounding it. Perhaps I’m biased as a woman living in the Me Too movement, which couldn’t allow me to agree with Elle’s decision-making process. I understand that times are different now, society isn’t what it used to be 50 years ago, especially when it comes to speaking openly about abuse. It definitely gave me plenty of things to reflect on — one of the main reasons I love reading books in the first place.

Would I recommend this book?

Yes! I’m not a harsh critique at all, I’d probably give this a 4/5 and people might agree/disagree.. but read this book and let’s have a chat. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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Meghana Murthy

Meghana Murthy

Data Science | Octane | New York City | Books | Piano | Music