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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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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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.


An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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