Turtles of the Midnight Moon | María José Fitzgerald


Turtles of the Midnight Moon by María José Fitzgerald

Out now from Knopf Books for Young Readers; 320 pages

Content Warning: Violent threats and discussion of poachers 

About the Author:  “María José is a writer of children’s books. Her favorite stories usually include animals, friendships, family, and magic. She grew up snorkeling and hiking in her homeland of Honduras, where nature and culture nourished her soul. Her debut novel, Turtles of the Midnight Moon, will be published by Knopf in the Spring of 2023. When she’s not writing, you can find her teaching, reading, walking her dogs, relaxing on the couch with her family, or maybe out on a  mountain bike ride” (Bio from the author’s website).

Find María José Fitzgerald on the following platforms: 

“Her heart was as shaken as a storm-tossed sea, but through the tumult she felt a sliver of hope. Like the first sliver of the crescent moon after the darkness.”

In Turtles of the Midnight Moon, two seemingly different 12-year-old girls unite to promote lasting change. Barana lives in the small Honduran beach village of Pataya, where she goes to school via boat and helps with household chores. However, Barana’s true passion is sea turtle conservation, and she aches to spend her time relocating nests and looking for her favorite leatherback Luna. But her plans are shattered when a decompression sickness specialist from the United States visits to train the locals, and Barana is tasked with being his daughter’s tour guide. Abby, while unamused about having a babysitter, cannot wait to see her dad’s childhood village, use her Spanish, and take wildlife pictures. With both girls vowing to ditch each other, can a threat to the sea turtles bring them together?

Get ready to be transported to Honduras! María José Fitzgerald does an incredible job of immersing readers in the rich culture through vibrant descriptions. Community is a significant aspect of Pataya, and the girls question loyalty in their search for truth. I feel the novel could have been more effective if told in first person to gain an inside look at Barana and Abby’s thoughts, but the dual perspectives still offer distinct voices. While I enjoyed the Spanish dialogue, I am unsure how difficult it would be to understand for readers without experience with the language. Even after four years of Spanish courses, I sometimes struggled to understand what was said when translations were not provided. However, the use of Spanish might appeal to Spanish-speaking readers, especially Honduran readers, who are excited to find Spanish interwoven in an English book. One element of the story that did not work for me was Barana’s matching crescent-shaped scar with Luna the leatherback and the identical sea turtle carvings the girls find under their pillows. Barana’s scar burns and tingles every chapter to alert her to new information or danger. Similarly, the girls’ sea turtle carvings randomly glow and feel warm. The power behind these supernatural instances is never revealed, and I feel they take away from the realistic portrayal in all other aspects of the book.

Turtles of the Midnight Moon is for anyone who wants to be transported to the beaches of Pataya to learn about Honduran culture. I especially recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the Spanish language or sea turtles. Fitzgerald shows readers how to search for the truth and not give up in the face of adversity to help create a better tomorrow.

(Pine Reads Review would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for sending us an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change before final publication.)

PRR Writer and Editor, Emilee Ceuninck