cover image Turtle Boy

Turtle Boy

M. Evan Wolkenstein. Delacorte, $16.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-12157-3

“I think it’s going to be a living nightmare,” Will Levine replies when his chirpy mother, on the first day of seventh grade, predicts that this year will be better than last. The forthright narrator of Wolkenstein’s debut middle grade novel proves prescient: he’s taunted by bullies who dub him “Turtle Boy” for his chin, which is shrinking due to micrognathia; he learns that he’ll need extensive surgery to correct the issue, which otherwise could affect his breathing; his best friend has ditched him for her volleyball teammates; and his emotional sanctuary, the swampland from which he has purloined several turtles that are now his beloved pets, is slated for development. Perhaps most unsettling to the boy, terrified of hospitals since his father’s sudden death during surgery, his rabbi recruits him to visit RJ, a hospitalized boy with a fatal illness, to fulfill his bar mitzvah community service requirement. Will’s affecting bond with the patient brings him out of his shell as he tackles comfort-level-defying challenges on RJ’s bucket list and reconciles long-simmering emotions linked to his own parents. A masterful mingling of deeply resonant themes, including self-esteem, loneliness, loss, and the rewards of improbable friendships. Ages 10–up. [em](May) [/em]