A spirited tale about finding a new place in the world.

The Fly Strip

Banta tells the story of a teenage orphan struggling to start over in small-town Indiana in this debut novel.

It’s the autumn of 1960. When his parents and brother are killed suddenly in a car accident, 17-year-old Malcolm “Weed” Clapper is forced to move from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to live with his grandmother in a tiny town in Indiana. With an injured leg that restricts his movement, Weed is self-conscious around his new peers, particularly the girls—and women—at school. There’s much about his new home that confuses him, like the fact that the local homeless man keeps calling him “Joey” or the strange thumping sounds his grandmother makes at night. In addition, Weed encounters difficulties acclimating to the entrenched racism that categorizes the opinions of his new neighbors, which ranges from a stuffy disdain for blacks to a violent hatred of them. They warn Weed, in friendly and not-so-friendly ways, against mixing with the town’s African-American population. When Weed learns of the strong Ku Klux Klan presence in the area, he is tempted to leave town, but his relationship with a young English teacher makes him reluctant to do so. Weed sets to work befriending the town’s outcasts and untouchables, but when the Klan begins to target one of his new friends, he must decide just how committed he is to his new life—since standing up for his beliefs may just put that life at risk. The novel’s structure is epistolary, told through a series of journal entries—“I figure Kerouac writes,” explains Weed, “and it’s a known fact that he’s cool”—the perfect format for the hero’s jokey, irreverent tone. Through Weed, Banta displays her gift for fresh, evocative language: “Cotton’s rolling chuckle came from so deep inside his chest you would have thought he started it yesterday.” Nothing in the plot or the characters feels entirely original, from the sensitive narrator hiding behind derision to the collection of colorful townsfolk. But Banta’s versions are well-executed and mostly endearing, and while the ending perhaps is a little too tidy to be believable, it still manages to satisfy.

A spirited tale about finding a new place in the world.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-943847-40-2

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Waldorf Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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