“What makes a place your own? What makes a home a home? It wasn’t something simple, like a familiar bench, or a fisherman’s yellow sweater vest with a hole in it, or the nut-man’s fat red turban. It was more mysterious…” (Nye 116)
These are the questions at the center of Naomi Shihab Nye’s new middle-grade novel, The Turtle of Oman, which follows Aref, a young Omani boy who discovers that he must leave his beloved childhood home behind for a life halfway across the globe. With both of his parents, professors at the local university, poised to begin their doctorates at the University of Michigan in the fall, Aref must spend the last few weeks of the summer coming to terms with leaving the only home he’s ever known. Even though he already speaks English fluently, Aref is afraid the kids in Michigan won’t understand him, won’t share his love for collecting rocks, making lists, or researching animals (especially the migratory sea turtles who always find their way back to the Omani beaches they make famous). He’s afraid of leaving behind his cat, Mish-Mish, and his friends Sulima and Diram. Most of all, he’s afraid of leaving behind his beloved grandfather, Sidi. As he struggles to get his final suitcase packed, Aref must spend his last few days in Oman figuring out what (and who) exactly ‘home’ means to him—how he can leave it behind, take it with him, and make it anew in the United States—all at once.
At its heart, Nye’s charming novel tells the story of a boy who must leave his home and start a new life elsewhere—it’s a tale of moving, of endings and new beginnings, and of appreciating the aspects of home that matter most. The narrative point of view is eminently relatable—Aref is a twelve-year old boy whose worries about moving will surely resonate with any young reader who has ever relocated or had to adapt to new surroundings. His close bond with Sidi will undoubtedly recall readers’ relationships with special people in their own lives. That said, this story is also uniquely Aref’s—a boy from Oman, a Middle Eastern country largely unknown to many in the U.S. From his everyday trips to the souk with his mother to his adventure through the far-flung desert with Sidi, the landscape and culture Aref has grown to love is decidedly Omani, and will provide an outwardly unfamiliar perspective for many American readers. Despite this, The Turtle of Oman reveals an underlying universality to the way we think about ‘home’ and speaks not only to the Arab, immigrant experience, but also to the human one.
By: Jamie Meader
Nye, Naomi Shihab. The Turtle of Oman. New York: HarperCollins. 2014. Print.