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's spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways.
Inspired by stories of her great-grandmother, who immigrated to Key West at the turn of the last century, two-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer L. Holm beautifully blends family lore with America's past in this charming gem of a novel, rich in historical detail, humor, and the unique flavors of Key West.
The cover and title led me to believe this was a romance-of-the-summer book, and nothing could be further from the truth! Turtle in Paradise had me hooked from the first paragraph, and its small-town charm and colorful kid protagonists made it impossible for me to put it down until I finished the story.
Turtle is a jaded pre-teen who expects trouble in life, but always rises above. I love having a cynical protagonist who is brave and adventurous and enduring. She's also incredibly funny as she explores Key West with her gaggle of boy cousins. And those boy cousins! They're the Diaper Gang, because they are the babysitters of the island. Boy babysitters are my new favorite thing, with their kind disregard for crying (they just swaddle the kid and put it in a wagon) and top secret diaper rash cure.
This story touches on history, family, adventure, and the elusiveness of happy endings--all in a very 5th grade friendly (with no loss of adult interest, by the way) format. I adored Turtle in Paradise. It might be my new favorite for the Caudill award.
Five out of five sponges.
Release Date: May 2010Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL