Jewish Values: Turtle Boy

Place of Publication: 
New Yotrk
Publication Year: 
Number of Pages: 
400 p.
Will Levine is having a very difficult seventh grade experience. As a budding reptile expert (herpetologist), with several turtles he collected now living in his bedroom, and a self-described “funny-looking chin,” which he attempts to hide by ducking into his hoodie (like a turtle), he has become the target of the school. bullies. They and his schoolmates have dubbed him “Turtle Boy.” When Will tells his mother how uncomfortable he is about his chin, she consults a doctor. It turns out that Will has micrognathia, and must have surgery to correct the problem so that his breathing and eating will not be affected. However, Will’s father died following a routine hernia operation when Will was four, making him terrified of hospitals. Because he has been skillfully and deliberately avoiding his Bar Mitzvah community service project, Will’s rabbi has “ordered” him to befriend RJ, a young boy who is dying, requiring weekly visits to the hospital, and triggering some early childhood memories Will did not think he had. While all of this is going on, what more could one seventh grade boy have to deal with? RJ has a bucket list, and after a rocky beginning, RJ and Will get down to the business of Will serving as RJ’s proxy in making sure the list is completed. Despite his constant state of anxiety, and a never ending desire to sit alone in his room, Will finds himself getting on a bus and seeing a live rock concert, attending a school dance, riding a rollercoaster and playing drums in a school talent show, among many other things. Will manages to overcome his anxieties and learn, with the help of family and friends, that life is meant to be lived in all its fullness.
The writing in this fun and compassionate story is strong, with well-defined characters and interesting and engaging plot lines. Tears and laughter, empathy and acceptance are experienced deeply as emotions are touched. Judaism is a central theme of the book with the values of friendship, visiting the sick, compassion, and caring for the environment exemplified throughout.
Sydney Taylor Winner: