The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye; Greenwillow Books, 299 pages ($16.99). Ages 8 to 12.
Naomi Shihab Nye, American-born daughter of a Palestinian refugee, is a poet and National Book Award finalist for “19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East.” And she brings a poet’s economy of words and talent for evocative language to this charming story of a boy in Oman preparing to leave home for three years in Michigan while his parents study for their doctorates. The story begins with Aref at the airport saying goodbye to his father, then returning home to pack his suitcase and spend time with his beloved grandfather, Sidi. Nye has spent time in Muscat, Oman, and she paints a gorgeous portrait with lovely, small details of everything Aref loves about his home: the piles of luscious apricots at the shops, the dunes in the desert, crispy fish served in blue baskets, his cat Mish-Mish, his room, his rock collection. Most of all this is a memorable portrait of a boy and his love for his grandfather, a marvelous personality with a greeting for everyone and a large view of the world and its wonders. Aref and Sidi spend their final days together in special ways, nearly getting stuck in the sand in Sidi’s jeep “Monsieur” on a camping trip in the desert, sleeping on Sidi’s roof, riding in a fishing boat (which makes Sidi seasick). Aref muses about what makes a place home: “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, like a village with tiny stacked houses, so many windows, and doors with soft flickers shining out into the night. ... You felt you could knock on any door and the people inside might know some of the same things you knew or welcome you in – just because you all belonged there. They might tip their heads and say ‘Oh yes, aren’t you that boy with the stones in his pockets?’”
– Jean Westmoore
I Can See in the Dark by Karin Fossum; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (256 pages, $25)
Karin Fossum’s books have sold millions of copies worldwide, and a few years ago the Norwegian novelist was named one of the 50 greatest crime writers of all time by The Times of London.
“I Can See in the Dark” is a taut, well-paced book written totally from the point of view of a sociopath named Riktor. From the opening pages, his observations reveal his distorted worldview.
“I don’t think people notice anything peculiar about me,” Riktor narrates. “My manner is calm and friendly, and I do what I’m told; I simply mimic the others who stay within the norm.”
He works in a nursing home where he inflicts hidden cruelties on helpless residents. The title of the book comes from his claim that, indeed, he can see in the dark. Readers quickly learn, though, that reality and Riktor’s view of reality often differ. For most of the book, Riktor wrestles with irony. He’s accused of doing something he didn’t do, all the while knowing there are crimes he did commit that he hasn’t been accused of – yet.
The book, published in Norway in 2011, is a departure for Fossum. She built her international reputation on a series of novels featuring an inspector named Konrad Sejer. He doesn’t appear in “I Can See in the Dark,” and the cop investigating Riktor appears only briefly.
Page after page, layer after layer, Riktor reveals his madness and his growing separation from others and society in general. “The pious will also perish, and we’ll get no reward in heaven,” he narrates midbook. “So what was the point of exerting ourselves?”
– Gary Jacobson, Dallas Morning News