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Under the Banyan Tree Paperback – April 19, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Devastated by her mother's leaving, 15-year-old Irena blames her angry father and runs away from his shabby trailer in the Everglades. She ends up in Key West, where the desperate teen finds work cleaning rooms in the rundown Banyan Tree Motel, as well as nurturing from the owner of the motel, warm, elderly, Cuban American Carlotta, and her family. But Irena still has her share of problems, not the least of which is a threat that the half-empty motel will have to close. What can Irena do to save it? The first-person narrative makes Irena sound more like she's 10 than 15, but this moving novel tells the leaving-home story with complexity and depth, never denying the loss, even as Irena discovers the true meaning of family. The surprises and secrets that drive the plot spring from the people Irena gets close to, as well as those she remembers. Rochman, Hazel --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Paperback: 214 pages
  • Publisher: Aerodale Press (April 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1450773540
  • ISBN-13: 978-1450773546
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #862,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Toni De Palma was born in Brooklyn, New York. Her first middle grade novel, Under the Banyan Tree, was published in 2007. Under the Banyan Tree was selected as a Kirkus New Voices Pick and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. Her second middle grade novel, Jeremy Owl, was published in 2010. Toni holds her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College and she is a recipient of a New Jersey Arts Fellowship. She currently resides in New Jersey.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Walt Giersbach on August 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
Toni De Palma's "Under the Banyan Tree" transcends young adult lit through her character development, even-handed plotting, and rising level of tension. "Banyan" opens as a mix of southern Gothic and "road novel," but quickly becomes the simple story of a teenager escaping an abusive father, a mother who's run away, and an enigmatic man who runs the alligator farm where they live. Irene hits the road, too, finding herself in Key West as a homeless waif.

The eponymous banyan tree at the motel of the same name becomes her refuge. This is the focus -- and perhaps metaphor -- for Irena to plant her roots. Motel owner Carlotta and her brother Antonio take Irena in as family. The plot grows as it becomes clear the once-successful motel will fail for lack of guests. The McGuffin in the novel is the place set at dinner each day for the guest who never comes and the room no one is allowed to enter. The dynamic tension begins to build.

Thematically, Carlotta spells out Irena's situation, saying, "I guess everyone needs to run away from home from time to time." The "runaways" are everywhere and represented by everyone -- especially in the surprising reveal at the end that brings the book to an eminently satisfying close.

This is a sweet story, grounded in the banyan tree, which is "super strong" and "holds up in all kinds of storms. Even hurricanes." And so it is with Irena.

Look for the smooth, effortless writing from De Palma, with the back stories woven seamlessly into the story line without interrupting the story line.
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Format: Paperback
Under the Banyan Tree is a touching story that pulled me right in and kept me from putting the book down until I reached the end.

De Palma has a great way of making the characters realistic and life-like so you come to care about them and are concerned about their situations throughout the story.

The Banyan tree itself is used, not only as the name of the hotel but, to represent the strength one needs to escape an unhappy situation and to symbolize putting down roots, feeling safe and comforted in the place one considers home.

Another great perk to the story is that you get to learn a bit about Key West and some of the history that has gone on there. De Palma describes the maze of streets and the colorfulness of the community along with some of the Cuban culture that is prominent in the area.

All in all, a well-written, touching story about strength, family, acceptance and finding one's way to place where they feel cherished and can call home.
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