“Turtles of the Midnight Moon” by Maria José Fitzgerald is an enchanting middle grade eco-mystery about two 12-year-old girls who form a friendship despite being from different countries and cultures. Sea turtle lovers will rejoice to see their beloved animals take center stage. Those who know nothing about sea turtles will come away with a boatload of information about the largest of the 7 species of sea turtles, the leatherback sea turtle.
Abby, from the U.S., and her doctor father go visit his homeland in Honduras. Abby is still grieving after her best friend moved away, and she doesn’t fit in at school. But she loves taking pictures and that keeps her involved in school.
Her counterpart in Honduras, Barana, has a moon-shaped scar that perfectly matches the scar on the shell of Luna, a leatherback sea turtle. She shares a special bond with this turtle, and her scar hurts when Luna is nearby (i.e. laying eggs on the beach near where she lives).
Barana loves the sea turtles and helps an adult in charge of them, Maria, patrol the nesting beach and guard nests. Both girls are wary of each other at first-Barana just wants to protect the sea turtles and get out of her chores, and Abby want to explore on her own with her camera. But they bond over their shared creativity-Barana draws and writes poetry while Abby is a photographer.
Abby and Barana also bond over concern for the sea turtles. One of Luna’s nests survives a storm, but her other nests are no match for poachers. The girls need solve the mystery of who the poachers are and bring them to justice if they’re going to save any of Luna’s eggs.
“Turtles of the Midnight Moon” is written from a dual point-of-view. It is engaging and kept my interest. I’m a marine biologist and I found it to be scientifically accurate. I’m glad I’m studying Spanish but there were phrases here and there that weren’t translated fully in the context of the story. The gist of the Spanish is there, but footnotes or a glossary would be nice. But there’s always google translate (though that takes away from the flow of the story).
Otherwise, it’s well-paced with the right amount of mystery and magic to keep you reading. Besides being an eco-mystery, it’s also a book about friendship and family as well as the complications that those relationships bring.
Budding conservationists will love this book, and those who aren’t (yet!) will come away with an appreciation of our ancient sea turtles.