Turtles of the Midnight Moon by Maria Jose Fitzgerald #NetGalley #ARCReview #

When poachers threaten the island they love, two girls team up to save the turtles—and each other. An eco-mystery with an unforgettable friendship story at its heart from a fresh new voice in middle grade.

Twelve-year-old Barana lives in a coastal village in Honduras, where she spends every spare minute visiting the sea turtles that nest on the beach.

Abby is feeling adrift in sixth grade, trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs after her best friend moved away from New Jersey.

When Abby’s papi plans a work trip to Honduras, she is finally given the opportunity to see his homeland—with Barana as her tour guide. But Barana has other plans: someone has been poaching turtle eggs, and she’s determined to catch them! Before long, Abby and Barana are both consumed by the mystery, chasing down suspects, gathering clues, and staking out the beach in the dead of night. . . . Will they find a way to stop the poachers before it’s too late?

A heart-pounding mystery with a hint of magic, María José Fitzgerald’s debut novel explores the power of friendship, community, and compassion to unite all living creatures.

Turtles of the Midnight Moon (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (Audible.com) (AbeBooks)

Turtles of the Midnight Moon is a middle-grade mystery set in parts in New Jersey but mostly Honduras. There are two girls about 12-years of age. Abby lives in New Jersey with her Michigan-born mom and Honduran-born father. He’s a doctor and is planning a trip to Honduras to help out the fishermen transition to lobster-catching, using techniques that will avoid the men from getting the bends. Abby loves photographing nature and her father thinks it was time she visited his homeland, and reluctantly, her mom agrees.

Barana is a Honduran girl whose jam is the leatherback turtles that come ashore on the beach near her house every year and lay their eggs. They’re endangered, because poachers often steal the eggs to sell as delicacies on the black market. Barana wants to do all she can to protect the turtles, but no one in her family seems to share the same enthusiasm with her. There’s an effort from a local ecologist, but they lack the funding and the willingness of the police to help guard the beaches.

I really enjoyed the immersion into Honduran life and how Abby doesn’t think she’ll fit in right away. She knows Spanish from her father, and finds that she can speak fluently with her hosts and their friends. It helps to know a little Spanish to read this book, or at least get it on Kindle and use the translate option, as quite a bit of the early dialogue and descriptions use Spanish words. Even though I was horrible at Spanish in high school, I was able to make out what Abby and Barana were talking about with the translate button on my tablet.

I liked the fact that the girls found a common element to bring them together, the sea turtles. Abby is lucky enough to capture images of the turtles with her camera, as well as all the other unusual wildlife in Honduras. Her teacher had urged her to take chances with her photography and step outside her comfort zone, and she finds herself doing just that, taking portraits of Barana and her family and friends, with permission, of course.

Barana is happy to have someone who wants to help the turtles as much as her. Her family thinks she spends too much time focusing on them. More often than not, she is saddled with looking after her baby sister while her older brother plays soccer or hangs out with friends. Yet her brother is also a champ environmentalist in cleaning up the beaches of garbage and recycling and making art.

This is an excellent story about friendship and growth as a human being, ecology and standing up for what you believe in.

I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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