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.
An Excerpt fromTurtles of the Midnight Moon
Barana woke to the crescent moon–shaped scar between her shoulder blades tingling, calling her to the beach. To Luna. She turned to face Tulu’s side of the room. Her brother’s body was still, his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm.
Barana slipped out of bed and tiptoed to the doorway. She pushed the curtain aside and entered the main room of the small wooden house that teetered on stilts above the sand. Papá snored from the other bedroom. Mamá was probably cuddled up next to him with Marisol. The baby was like a tick, always attached to Mamá’s body.
Nobody would notice Barana’s absence.
The tingling on her back turned to a persistent prickle. She hadn’t sensed Luna all season. As far as she knew, her leatherback turtle had yet to lay a clutch. Maybe tonight would be the night.
Barana slipped on her chancletas and opened the front door. The waves and crickets muffled her footsteps as she stepped off the rickety stairs and onto the shimmering sand.
The wind sang through the palm fronds, and the moon above smiled. Guided by Luna’s call, the warm breeze, and the sea, Barana approached her favorite place on earth, the place where turtles roamed, where turquoise waters met the Caribbean sky—la playa.
The mighty Atlantic was three minutes from her house, and Barana knew the way to her beach by heart. She kicked off her sandals and ran barefoot through the palm trees, letting the fine sand brush against her brown toes.
The wind cooled both her nerves and the sweat upon her brow. Pataya’s sweltering June weather was not for the faint of heart. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she paused to look up. The moon’s barely visible crescent shape smiled down at her. Miles of sand stretched out before her.
The cemetery was a few minutes away, at the west end of the beach. She was in no mood to bump into ghosts or the creepy creatures of local myth, so she ran east, energized by the starry sky, the ocean, and the knowing that her turtle was nearby.
The waves lapped hungrily at her feet, the foam tickling them as she let the prickle in her scar guide her. She searched for tracks—any sign that Luna had come ashore—but there were none. She kicked the surf and wandered farther down la playa. Still no evidence of her baula. Maybe she needed to stay in one place. Her scar’s tingling had become faint. Perhaps she had missed the sea turtle, or maybe Luna hadn’t come onto the shore at all.
Barana sank onto a large piece of driftwood. Ten minutes became twenty. Finally, the prickle grew stronger. Luna was close. The cobalt sea glowed with green. . . . Something was stirring the fluorescent plankton. As if it had been waiting for Barana, a leathery black head poked out of the surf.
Flippers met sand as the baula’s enormous body emerged— close to six hundred pounds, if Barana had to guess. Her white star-like speckles glimmered against her black body. Barana approached the majestic creature, the moon-shaped scar confirming it was her beloved Luna. Side by side, they made their way up the sloping beach, Barana carefully keeping her distance. María always reminded them that turtles were wild creatures and told them to “mind a turtle’s space.” Though Barana knew Luna’s face by heart and could recognize the pink and white spots on her body, this turtle was not her pet. She belonged to the sea and sand. La mar y la arena.
“Hola, amiga. I’ve missed you.” Barana’s eyes teared up as she remembered the first time she saw Luna crawl ashore. She was five years old when it happened. Ever since then, when the nesting season drew near, Barana wondered if Luna would show up. Every other year, her scar would tingle, and she knew Luna had returned.
Barana rubbed her eyes and sat quietly to watch as the baula shifted her heavy body. She struggled awkwardly on the sand as she prepared to dig a pit.
Tears slipped from the leatherback’s face as she pushed the sand with her flippers to form the chamber for her eggs. Barana knew the sea turtle’s lágrimas were a way to rid her body of salt, a simple scientific phenomenon. But she liked to believe the mama turtle cried for her babies, knowing she’d have to leave them and their lives to fate. Both good reasons to cry.
The night was eerily quiet, and Barana had the unsettling feeling of being watched. She rubbed her neck to smooth the hairs that had prickled up. She shouldn’t be out by herself. In the distance she noticed two small, distinct lights. Slowly they moved closer. And then she exhaled a sigh of relief. It was the night patrol, doing their rounds to monitor the beach for sea turtles and to record any new nests.
Still, a twelve-year-old girl had no business being out on the beach alone at midnight. She’d heard enough ghost stories to know better. El Cadejo could get you, or if the devil’s dog didn’t, La Llorona might. Barana turned back to her turtle and held her hand several feet above the leathery carapace, sensing that spark of connection with Luna. She wasn’t sure how old Luna was, but her eyes seemed to hold decades of memories. “I’ll see you again, old girl,” Barana said. If this was Luna’s first clutch, Barana knew she’d be back to lay another one in a week or so.
Before the turtle finished laying her eggs, Barana ran home, stopping only to rest behind a palm tree and ensure that she hadn’t been seen. She didn’t want whoever was on patrol to tattle to her parents. Everybody knew everybody in her village. Mamá would throw a fit if she knew Barana had been out. She’d been caught once before, and the consequences had been diaper-washing duties for a month. She’d vowed to never let that happen again.
Barana picked up her sandals and quietly crept up the stairs of her house, sprinkling a trail of sand behind her. She brushed a few grains off her toes and out of her hair and tiptoed into the casita, carefully closing the door. Before taking another step, she looked around to make sure everything was as she’d left it. There were no sounds from the other side of the flower-patterned curtain sectioning off her parents’ room.
Tulu also slept soundly. Barana crawled under her soft sheet and thought about her secret excursion. Despite not being there to watch Luna go back to the ocean, it had been worth it. She promised herself that first thing in the morning she’d find out if the night patrol had marked the nest. María, who oversaw the turtle conservation project in Pataya, would know. Other people cared and helped out too, but it was María who had taken on the project almost ten years ago. She knew all of the leatherbacks’ markings by heart.
A short poem formed in Barana’s mind as she fell asleep.
Mama turtle tears,
Shed in sorrow,
Filled with love.
Precious cycle carries on.
She pictured Luna gliding through the water when she felt a new sensation in her scar. The gentle tickle she’d sensed earlier was replaced by a throbbing burn.
Tap, tap, click. Picture number one, done: Aberdeen snapped a shot of the dance’s welcome banner and a handful of smiling students milling about in the background. The flash on her old hand-me-down camera was working, and her mood was decent, considering she was determined to get the evening over with as painlessly—and as quickly—as possible. She wanted to be as invisible as a wildlife photographer sneaking up on a herd of gazelles.
The middle school cafetorium was decorated with blue and silver garlands, balloons, and a huge poster that said, have a great summer! A mirror ball hung above the dance floor, reflecting colorful lights on the huddles of sixth graders scattered around the room. The music was too loud for Abby to think clearly.
She tried to ignore the sea of students and focus instead on what her photography teacher, Ms. Tenley, had asked her to do—capture a few decent pictures for the final student newspaper of the year. If she could pull it off without having to engage in any kind of socializing or dancing, the night would be a success.