This slow, aimless, subtle, quiet prose-like book, is unexpectedly charming and endearing, and so not like most every young adult book out there. I truly want to make all 4th through 8th graders read it, absorb it and ruminate in the love shared between a nine-year-old boy, his grandfather, and their home. The easy 299 pages flow by on a 4.6 reading level and make you long for a kind grandfather to help you see the amazing in the ordinary, and provide you with gentle strength when facing life changing events . The Turtle of Oman has no climax and no conclusion, yet it offers hope and warmth in a reassuring manner that makes you feel better for having read it.
Aref is moving from Oman to Ann Arbor Michigan for three years while his parents pursue their education. To say he is dreading the move is an understatement. Lucky for him, and the reader, Aref’s grandfather Sidi, helps him create some memories to take with him to America. While they spend time together, travel around the country, and talk, the reader is drawn into a world where Aref and Sidi, finish each other’s sentences, and blur the lines of fact and make believe with their stories. Their love and ease with one another is so seamless that not only are they best friends, and relatives, but they are so intertwined the thought of their separation is heartbreaking.
“Aref kept thinking that no matter what you say, there is something more inside that you can’t say. You talk around it in a circle, like stirring water with a stick, when ripples swirl out from the center. You say something that isn’t quite right and that’s worse. Then you want to say, sorry! But no one knows what you mean.
He wished he could tell Sidi, you are the king of my heart forever, I don’t care who else I meet, I don’t care about traveling and new friends and different flavored yogurts, I only care about how nice you are and how much I cannot stand the thought of being far from you, ever, ever, ever.
But he could never say this.”
Sidi has passed his love of rocks on to Aref and each adventure involves Sidi slipping a rock to Aref as a token for him to remember their adventures and each other. From exploring the beach, camping in the deserts, sleeping on the roof, and going out on a fishing boat, the duo relishes in the details of everyday life that make life worth living. Along the way Aref keeps lists of interesting facts and the reader learns about animals, Oman, Michigan and so much more. But no matter how much prodding and reassurance Sidi and Aref’s mom try and impart on him ,the book pivots around the inevitable need for Aref to pack his suitcase. As much as packing a suitcase can be a climax or a conclusion, that is what the author gives, and the reader must be content to understand that like Aref’s beloved turtles, he will have to find his way to the ocean only to return once more to Oman.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that it meanders and cannot be rushed. I love the cultural warmth and the emotional depth. While the setting is Islamic, there is no religion mentioned other than the call to prayer heard in the market place. Quiet books usually border on boring for young adult readers, but I feel like this one doesn’t. I am leaning toward doing it for the Junior Book Club to see if it has the emotional appeal that I think it will. The main character is scared and unsure about the big move, feelings many children have felt. But his way of handling it, while childish and whiny in his stubbornness to pack, also offers nuanced hope. Aref is allowed to work through his thoughts and feelings, and while some characters rush him, his time with Sidi doesn’t feel rushed and forced. His time with Sidi is reassuring and patient, a fictional soft place for the scary unknown.
“Talking with Sidi felt like a sky of floating words,” Aref explains. “You could say anything.”
None, the book is completely clean.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
Interview with the author: http://www.hbook.com/2014/12/talks-with-roger/naomi-shihab-nye-talks-with-roger/#_