Lucky Turtle by Bill Roorbach

Lucky Turtle by Bill Roorbach. Algonquin Books, 2022. 9781643750972

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: ARC

Genre:  Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book? After an ill-advised criminal adventure with a boyfriend, Cindra Zoeller of Watertown, Massachusetts is sent to a reform school-like camp in the Montana wilderness. Camp Challenge (think of Sachar’s Camp Green Lake in his book Holes, substitute teen women for boys and add in bible study) is a challenge for the suburban teen, and she quickly learns that her backtalk and sneaky ways will only end her in the ‘Vault.’ Cindra meets the camp’s quiet, mysterious employee, Lucky, and they become lovers. Together they conceive of a plan to escape the camp and live off the grid, and, surprisingly, it is successful. Lucky has substantial skills at living in the wilderness, learned in childhood from his adoptive native parents, and together, the pair of fugitives makes a life hidden in the mountains and fall deeply in love. They are joined by another camp escapee, Franciella, and with help from Lucky’s trusted family, manage to survive for quite a while off of the land. Meanwhile, Cindra realizes she is pregnant. How will they be able to deliver a child, and stave off the authorities and the white supremacist who discovers them and covets the native lands they’re living on?

With completely captivating characters, a deeply satisfying love story and the uncertain spectre of separation, this a fully immersive, epic read. Lucky (who is the Lucky Turtle of the title) treats readers to the discovery of his parentage, which includes Native Americans and Chinese immigrants, Franciella is from Haiti, and Roorbach cleverly makes the issues of racism in the criminal justice system and the treatment of Native Americans and their land an important part of the story. Cindra herself is a wonderfully sassy and captivating narrator. Interestingly, she narrates the couple’s flight to the wilderness, and in alternating chapters her voice is a grown up Cindra fifteen years in the future, with her child, Ricky. Along with the love between Cindra and Lucky, and their flight and separation, I loved watching Cindra’s burgeoning love of Montana’s natural beauty and bounty. Roorbach’s writing is beautiful and is imbued with subtle humor – I’m so glad I was given the chance to review this book and be introduced to his writing.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  For adults who enjoy literary fiction, especially coming of age stories, and stories that take place in the western wilderness

Who should buy this book? Public libraries

Where would you shelve it ? Adult fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes!

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA

Date of review: June 30, 2022

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