The Turtle of Michigan by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow Books, 2022) picks up right where the The Turtle of Oman ends, as young Aref sits on an airplane to head to the United States from Oman. In The Turtle of Oman (reviewed here), Aref had spent a week with his grandpa, coming to terms with his upcoming move from Oman to Michigan. As he and his grandpa have their unique Omani adventures and consider the animals of their country, Aref comes to understand that he can always return home. Home will stay at part of him.
Although the characters in The Turtle of Michigan are the same as in the previous book, without the lovely Middle East background for the events of the book and the sweet interaction between Aref and his grandfather, it lacked any magic for me and I felt disappointed upon reading it.
Aref was an excited third grader, enjoying his experience trying new things. From the beginning of the book until the end, I don’t feel like he changed much. He just stayed excited. His parents showed a little growth, but they did not feel rounded and interesting. They were, apparently, a bit depressed in their new home, as they began graduate school, beginning with Aref’s mother breaking her wrist immediately upon arriving. They seemed a background to Aref’s adventures (as it should be, since it was a book about a child for children), yet Aref’s adventures did not seem to bring about much insightful change, so
Further, the story included snapshots of Sidi’s life in Oman in the midst of the story of Aref and his parents. This felt completely out of place. I didn’t feel like the strong and wise Sidi of the first book was the same as this wishy-washy lonely old man in this second book. I missed the connection between the boy and his grandfather. Maybe that was part of the point: that Sidi needed to grow just as Aref had to grow in the previous book. Nevertheless, Sidi was the wrong character to focus on. The theme of this book was that home is with people, not with a place, but I wish that Aref had come to this understanding with the same type of wisdom that the previous book imparted.
In short, while I was so excited to continue to experience the lyrical prose and the wise lessons that were present in The Turtle of Oman, I was so disappointed with Aref’s continued adventure. I’m glad he was fully engaged in his new world, but I wonder where the magic of his personality (and Sidi’s personality) have gone.