Under the Banyan Tree

Toni De Palma, Author . Holiday $16.95 (185p) ISBN 978-0-8234-1965-4

This debut novel about a 15-year-old runaway has some heartwarming moments and a sympathetic heroine, but the story line seems strained at times. Narrator Irena doesn’t know where she’ll end up when she decides to leave home—she’s just desperate to get away from her gator-wrestling father, who drove her mother away. Hitchhiking on the highway, Irena accepts the first ride offered and winds up at the end of the line in Key West. After wandering around, eating from garbage cans and sleeping in a public restroom, she lands a job as a chambermaid at a rundown motel called the Banyan Tree. She finds a new family in the kindly owners, siblings Carlotta and Antonio, but the motel’s dwindling funds have everyone worried, especially Lynette, the pregnant bookkeeper. As the threat of foreclosure looms, Irena brainstorms about how the motel could turn a bigger profit, but the ultimate solution is dependent more on coincidence and luck than inspiration. There are a few mysteries sprinkled throughout the plot (one involves a guest who is never seen and requests that his room never be touched); the story’s conclusion ties together all the loose threads a bit too neatly and seems rushed. Nonetheless, the book introduces a cast of likable characters with big hearts and compelling histories. Readers will find satisfaction in knowing that Irena finds a safe haven where she is accepted and cherished. Ages 12-up. (June)

Reviewed on: 07/09/2007
Release date: 05/01/2007
Genre: Children's
Paperback - 214 pages - 978-1-4507-7354-6
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