Pages: 208 pages
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: May 25, 2010
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "Life isn't like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple. She's smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it's 1935, and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce. So when Turtle's mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn't like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to stay with relatives she's never met. Florida's like nothing Turtle has ever seen. It's hot and strange, full of wild green peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what's happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she has spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways."
Turtle has to leave her hometown to live with her aunt in Key West, because her mother is a maid and her boss won't allow children to stay with her. Turtle is pretty anxious about this move initially, because Key West is entirely different than what she's used to. Plus, there are her male cousins who are spunky and outgoing and she is surrounded by family members that she has never met. There are secrets surrounding her family and fun adventures around every corner. Turtle knows that there's no Hollywood ending in life, especially during the Great Depression, but she finds happiness where she least expects it. Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm is a Newbery Honor book that is simply delightful.
Turtle is a likable character that I admired. She doesn't live with her head in the clouds; she understands that life isn't a Shirley Temple movie. Turtle was hesitant and closed off at first, but once she opened up, I enjoyed her even more. She's one tough cookie, but I guess you had to be growing up in the Great Depression.
Her relationships with her male cousins and friends were hilarious. They were always going on adventures, looking for treasure, and running around Key West. They were known as the Diaper Gang and they had me laughing out loud. Holm creates characters that are so memorable and quirky. I especially liked Archie, one of Turtle's mom's former boyfriends, and loved as the sub plot that unfolded around him.
The setting was incredible. I am such a fan of Key West so I loved how Holm included landmarks like Sloppy Joe's and famous residents like Ernest Hemingway. She made the setting so vivid and since I just visited there last July, I could really visualize the little side streets, the harbor, the lush landscape, and of course, Duval Street.
Another aspect of this novel that I adored was the fact that this story was inspired by Holm's family stories. In fact at the end of the book, Holm includes pictures of her own family living in Key West during the Depression and explains characters were based on "real people." I thought this made the story that much more authentic; it's obvious that this was a well researched historical fiction.
This book would be the perfect feel good read while on vacation. Also, I will definitely be pushing this book in my classroom as a good summer read for my students. So, if you are looking for a heartwarming book with substance this summer, you must pick up Jennifer Holm's Turtle in Paradise. I'm already dreaming of my next trip to Key West.
*Buy Turtle in Paradise
*Read an excerpt