Wow! 'Turtle Boy' by M. Evan Wolkenstein is absolutely superb! Like 'Wonder' and 'The Goldfish Boy', 'Turtle Boy' is touching, heartbreaking and full of life lessons. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it for days.
Will Levine is teased at school and called 'Turtle Boy' because of his funny-looking chin. He's due to have an operation but he also needs to learn to live his life out of his shell. When Rabbi Harris persuades Will to meet RJ, an older boy critically ill in hospital, he soon has to face his fears. And RJ wants Will's help: to get his bucket-list ticked off as he's too unwell to leave the confines of his room. But Will's adventures for RJ aren't going to be easy...
This is such an affecting and beautifully told story. Wolkenstein brings matters of the heart, and of life and death, to heartrending focus. 'Turtle Boy' moves and inspires, and confronts life's challenges with compassion and empathy.
The heart of the book is centred on Will's interactions with RJ. They begin tense but then bloom into something warm, deep and special. As RJ is critically ill, he encourages Will to embrace life for him. And this is such a remarkable conceit, as we see Will have to do things for RJ's bucket list that he would never think possible. There is lovely symmetry as, by the end, we see Will transform out of his shell into someone more like RJ, while RJ's world shrinks smaller.
'Turtle Boy' is wonderfully told, and by the end I was welling up with emotion. Truly, there are life lessons here for adults, kids and teenagers alike: how to find confidence despite your appearance, how to live your life without fear, what true friendship and compassion looks like. It is also brilliant to see a book that uses Judaism as a frame to explain all this, whilst never feeling preachy. There are universal truths in this book - teachers, particularly for Upper Key Stage 2, might even start using this in lessons, potentially usurping 'Wonder' in the process.
This is a book to make you feel. I urge anyone to get out of their shells and read it!
Thank you to Toppsta for sending me a copy to review.