A few months ago, a first-time author emailed me to see if I would review a young-adult book that she is releasing in November. I told her I would read it, and see what I thought.
Turtle Feet, Surfer’s Beat is the story of a 16 year-old girl named Penelope, who is forced (?) to leave her home in suburban New York to live in Costa Rica for a month. Her father, a noted nature photographer, is being sent on assignment to cover the efforts to protect the hatching grounds of the leatherback turtle. Her mother, who is on the verge of divorcing her dad for his constant travel, insists that the whole family go along for the ride. Right before the trip, her high school boyfriend, the quarterback of the football team, breaks up with her because he can’t handle a long-distance relationship.
Penelope and her younger brother Samuel, are ‘volunteered’ to help with the hatchery- protection efforts, so that their parents can have some time alone to repair their relationship. While living at a nature camp, Penelope meets and falls in love with a local surfer boy. Kendall is a native New Jerseyan whose parents have taken an early retirement in Costa Rica, where they run a small surf shop.
There’s a girl-gets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-gets-boy-back kind of thing going. In addition, the parents get back together and it all ends happily for the turtles too.
I have to say that I don’t really know any girls who are the right age to read this book, so I’m a little ill-prepared to recommend it for a specific age group. The main character does lose her virginity in a not-terribly-graphic scene, so that pegs the demographic as older than either of my kids.
I should also say that I was a little pre-disposed to dislike the book, because instead of sending me a review copy, the author sent me a PDF. There’s nothing like having to burn out a whole printer cartridge to really put one in the right mood for reviewing. I think I overcame it, though.
Overall, I could tell that Ms. Kuperman is very committed to saving turtles. The parts of the book that involved turtle facts and turtle rescue were well-researched and compelling. The rest of it? I was kind of meh about. The characters are not drawn particularly deeply–including the main character, who is extremely shallow. The parents are almost paper-thin, particularly the father. And the love interest seems to be based purely on a high school girl’s fantasy.
The crisis of the romantic sub-plot is contrived (another girl tells Kendall that she saw Penelope kissing another boy–he knows it’s not true, but goes along with it because his feelings for Penelope are “too intense”), and the resolution is somewhat unbelievable (although perhaps I’m forgetting what it’s like to be 16 and in love).
I give Kuperman props for writing a book with a social message. But the surfer speak left me kind of cold. It’s possible that for a book of its genre, this is average–I haven’t read any of those Sweet Valley High books in a while, and my sense is that there’s a similar demographic targeted here. But this book is not going to be giving you answers about any of life’s big questions.