RED PALMS

Cara Haycak, Author . Random/Lamb $16.95 (327p) ISBN 978-0-385-74648-9

In an ambitious first novel, Haycak sweeps readers to a remote South American island where an uprooted 14-year-old from Ecuador must adjust to a primitive culture. When the Great Depression causes Benita's father to lose his once prosperous business, her family has no choice but to move to Paíta Island, where Benita's grandmother owns some land. As Benita's father starts a coconut plantation, it soon becomes apparent that he is as unskilled at cultivating the land as he is at winning the trust of the natives he cheats. The family begins their new life in a ramshackle shack, with the nearest source of fresh water a mile away; they would surely starve to death if not for the help of Captain Pepito. The one bright spot in Benita's dismal days is Pepito's son, Raúl. Smitten with Raúl, his agility and good looks, Benita runs away with him to the jungle to become his "wife," realizing too late the ramifications of her actions. The author vividly conveys each stage of the heroine's emotional development: Benita's initial culture shock, her growing curiosity about native customs and her yearning for independence. At times, her mindset seems too modern for the 1930s, and the motivations of Benita's parents remain muddied; a subplot about an island "crone" is only sketchily developed. But the sounds, smells and tastes of the island come fully to life, and Benita's unquenchable thirst for knowledge and ultimate liberation end the novel on an uplifting note. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 12/06/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004
Genre: Children's
Library Binding - 327 pages - 978-0-385-90883-2
Mass Market Paperbound - 327 pages - 978-0-553-49412-9
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