'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 27 December 2020

Review: Turtle Boy

The #ownvoices movement, it could be justifiably said, is one that has revolutionised narratives across genres for all age groupings. 

For young readers this is arguably most significant as children are at last able to read and connect with storylines, characters, problems, and issues that reflect their own circumstances.

Will Levine is not your regular middle-schooler. He is passionate and knowledgeable about herpetology, in particular turtles. But this scientific interest is not the reason for his nickname at school, Turtle Boy. 

That has come from the jibes of cruel fellow students who delight in mocking Will for his maxillofacial condition which makes his chin appear non-existent and hinders the way he eats.

The time has come for Will to face surgery to correct his condition and not just for cosmetic reasons but the very thought of the operation and all it entails is enough to terrify him. His father died having what was meant to be a routine hernia operation and Will and his mother have been grieving for eight years. Will’s only true sanctuary has been the nature reserve behind his school known as the Back 40 and that has come under threat from developers.  His minimal friendships are dissolving through misunderstandings and hurt feelings leaving him even more disconnected.

Will’s operation is not the only terror looming in his life. His Bar Mitzvah is coming up and the prospect of the whole synagogue scrutinising him is terrifying. To make matters even worse Rabbi Harris has assigned Will to visit some sick kid as his 40 hours of community service before the ceremony.  Could anything else possibly go wrong for Will? The withdrawal into his metaphorical shell becomes more pronounced by the day as his anxiety and depression levels escalate leaving Will feeling isolated, helpless, and hopeless.

Will’s first meeting with RJ who has a mitochondrial disease is spectacularly unsuccessful as two more dissimilar boys could surely never have been put together in an enclosed space.  Yet, week by week, Will and RJ create a friendship bond like no other. It is an alliance forged from complete polarities yet unswervingly moves towards shared passions, skills, strengths, and emotions.

Will’s friendship with RJ empowers him to be a risk-taker, an activist, a thrill-seeker, a musician and above all a young man who is confident and comfortable in his own physical as well as mental being.

This remarkable book, which even more remarkably started as short cartoon strip, will make the reader laugh and cry, rejoice and hope and, perhaps above all, see that there is goodness and grace in the world often found in unexpected places.

Title: Turtle Boy
Author: M Evan Wolkenstein
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia, $14.99
Publication Date: October 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781474981385
For ages: 10+
Type: Middle Grade Fiction