Plot/Idea: The author has crafted a charming story of a 12-year-old boy's quietly eye-opening summer spent with his aunt and uncle. The throwback chapter titles of 70s songs--as well as other cultural touchstones--provide verisimilitude without becoming overplayed.
Prose: The author is a talented writer with solid command of language. Action, dialogue, and description are all handled with grace and ease.
Originality: The Sea Turtle is a touching coming-of-age story set against a 1970s beachy backdrop. While not wholly original in concept, Dodd brings the circumstances to life.
Character/Execution: Characterization here is top notch from Ran to Joey to Joni and beyond; Dodd is particularly skilled at creating nuanced relationships via expressive dialogue and subtle cues.
Date Submitted: August 24, 2023
"Dodd presents a novel about the unexpected pivotal moments and pleasures of growing up. In 1994, Thomas Ransom 'Ran' Fox Jr. looks back two decades to when he was 12 years old and sent, reluctantly, to spend the summer with Aunt Sarah and Uncle Breland on Pawleys Island, South Carolina. With no friends in the area, a gruff uncle who appears resentful for no identifiable reason, and—worst of all—no working television for easy entertainment, the subsequent three months seem like they'll be irredeemably bleak (save, of course, for Aunt Sarah’s excellent peanut butter and banana sandwiches). Then Ran meets Joey, a local boy his age who not only helps Ran finish his yard work in half the time, but also introduces him to an intricate ecosystem of summertime adolescent adventure. Suddenly, there are girls to be kissed, sunrises to wake up early for, and arcade games to play at local hangout King's, where he can enjoy snow cones ('You can try all our snowball flavors!' says the girl behind the counter there. 'They're really just snow cones, but we call them snowballs'). There are also complicated family histories to confront—including one that explains Uncle Breland's initial resistance to having Ran come to stay. Dodd’s writing is lucid and engaging. Just as the island setting is densely imagined, so, too, are the book’s characters carefully and precisely observed; Ran's first-person narration is sustained and observant, offering a wry, pleasurable foray into an adolescent mind. The story itself isn't always surprising, but this is part of its allure, as a pleasant nostalgia becomes apparent in individual plot points (Ran's hopeless crush on older girl Heather Altman plucks especially familiar strings) to the chapter titles lifted from old 1970s songs (Drift Away, Smoke on the Water, What’s Going On). A lively coming-of-age story that's sure to resonate with anyone who looks back fondly on their childhood summers."
The Sea Turtle wins third place in the coming-of-age category of the 2023 3rd Quarter Firebird Book Awards.