Why is it that any book with “beach” in the title automatically gets slotted in a weird sub-genre called “beach read,” implying a frothy, ephemeral confection and, frequently, a romance novel? Mary AdkinsPalm Beach (HarperCollins) has been described as such in several publications, but this reviewer feels the designation diminishes her work as it poses serious questions relatable to many readers in addition to being an entertaining, quick read. 

The book’s dynamic plot instantly grabs your attention as do its two main characters: Rebecca and Mickey Byrne, a young, urban professional couple and recent parents. 

BIG MOVES FOR NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Rebecca is a small-town Tennessee farmer’s daughter whose parents struggled to make ends meet. From early childhood, she was earnest, studious and intensely invested in issues concerning animal, environmental and civil rights. With armor forged from a rigid moral code, journalism was a good fit for this progressive student who always sought answers to difficult questions. After an eight-year stint working with vapid celebrities in New York City and another three struggling as a freelance writer, Rebecca is finally offered some stability with a regular column in an online journal, writing about the rapidly increasing economic gap between the upper echelon, the declining middle class, the working poor and the impoverished in America. 

Mickey, on the other hand, moved from his parent’s modest Boston home to New York to pursue his passion for performing. Talented and likable, he experienced moderate success with several meaty roles, earned a Tony Award nomination, and was up for the lead in a national touring company production. Unfortunately, essential surgery on his vocal cords left him with both a raspy voice instead of his clear, lyrical tenor and no certainty of a full recovery. 

Like most aspiring actors, Mickey supplements his income with various catering jobs. His competence and affable nature bring him a life-changing offer: move to Palm Beach and become the house manager for a billionaire entrepreneur. With his dreams of being a smash Broadway hit dashed and the arrival of their newborn son forcing Mickey and Rebecca to consider their future, they seize this golden opportunity to trade their life in Queens for a low six-figure income, affordable housing and Florida sunshine.

COMING FACE-TO-FACE WITH YOUR MORALS 

While this move grants their family many privileges, it also presents the young couple with a myriad of challenges that will lead to complicated moral dilemmas, upheavals and compromises. Within days of starting his new job, Mickey is approached by Cecil Stone, a billionaire venture capitalist whose business practices are questionable at best, with an offer to become his estate manager at double his present salary! With the blessing of his present employer, he makes the leap. Although the job with Cecil pays well, Mickey is on-call or on-site at all hours, seven days per week, working for ultra-rich and demanding perfectionists who have little appreciation for loyal staff members, who are often fired on a whim. 

Meanwhile, Rebecca befriends Cecil’s independently wealthy wife, but she struggles to cope with a host of unanticipated changes, her husband’s taxing job and his perceived spousal neglect. Then, a sudden medical crisis forces Rebecca to confront her rigid code of ethics. In the world of the ultra-wealthy, everything is for sale — including your morals. Faced with a life-changing choice, she may learn the price of hers.

Don’t let the “beach read” brand fool you, Adkins’ latest has plenty of substance, unsurprising considering her previously acclaimed novels When You Read This and Privilege. Palm Beach would certainly generate lively discussion among book club members and may have you questioning what you would do in a similar situation.

Buy this book!

Mary Adkins’ writing has appeared in the New York Times and the Atlantic. A native of the American South and a graduate of Duke University and Yale Law School, she teaches storytelling for The Moth and is co-host of I’M STILL HERE!, a podcast about making art after kids. Prior to becoming a full-time writer and mother, she worked as a lawyer.