Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Review: The Turtle of Oman, by Naomi Shihab Nye

The Turtle of Oman: A Novel

Here are some things Aref loves about his home.
  1. Mish-Mish, his cat
  2. The dunes in the desert
  3. His friends Diram and Sulima
  4. Fresh apricots
  5. Crispy fish served in baskets
  6. His grandfather, Sidi
  7. His excellent rock collection
  8. The turtles of Oman
Aref does not want to move to Michigan. He's sure the kids there won't like him. Also, he has everything he needs right where he is! But Sidi has another point of view. Sidi says Aref will go and come back. Just like a falcon or the turtles of Oman, he'll travel far and make his way home to Muscat.
So Aref sets out to say good-bye to everything he loves. Good-bye to Mish-Mish, Diram, Sulima, dunes, Sidi . . . But how can he stand it?
As an adult, I can say that this is very well written. The characters are so well-drawn, I feel as if I know them well - Aref, his grandfather Sidi, and even his mother (who I think I have a lot in common with, personality-wise). The vivid descriptions of the sights, smells, and tastes of Oman make it hard to pull yourself out of the book and back to your regular surroundings. I find myself wanting to visit an area I had not thought much about previously - possibly because it's a relatively peaceful country right now. Politics and religion are not a part of this story, simply a young boy coming to terms with leaving almost everything he knows and loves for what seems to him a very long time, and that is conveyed extremely well.

So, as an adult, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. I am not sure how successful it will be in reaching its intended audience, though. There is a continual sense of waiting for something (Aref's departure for America) to happen, and it wasn't until I was halfway through the book that I realized that wasn't going to happen until after the story was over. Readers who are looking for action, or a climactic event, will be disappointed. There are several gentle climaxes as Aref's wise grandfather helps him become at peace with the future. A very Arabic tale in this respect, but I'm not sure how it will be received by the typical ten-year-old American boy.

Save this one for that introspective young reader, fond of making lists, a lover of facts, perhaps a bit wise beyond his years: give him a good, long look, and hand the book over slowly, saying, "This book isn't for everyone, but I think you might be just right for it."

Thank-you to HarperCollins for the review copy.

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