Turtle in Paradise

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

Because her mother gets a job with a woman who doesn’t want a child around, Turtle has to move across the country from Pennsylvania to Key West to live with her aunt and cousins.  Set in 1935 during the Depression, the book captures the unique character of the Florida Keys as well as the poverty and joblessness of the time period.  Turtle finds herself surrounded by boy cousins who have started their own business that pays in candy.  They look after babies by pulling them around in a wagon for a few hours to give mothers a break.  They also have a secret diaper rash formula that helps keep them in business.  Their small town is filled with characters all with interesting nicknames.  Turtle discovers a lot during her summer in the Keys: the ties of family, the power of hurricanes, and how to find buried treasure.  This book is an ideal summer read.

Holm packs such a great story in this brief book thanks to her stellar writing.  It features a heroine who is smart, sassy, and very brave.  She has specific ideas about things and is never afraid to say them, even though they will have readers cringing at her bald honesty.  Holm beautifully creates a town of characters who are constantly surprising, always more complex than expected, and delightfully depicted.  Her writing is clean as an ocean breeze, moving along at a brisk pace.  Dialogue is at the heart of the book and is written with a great ear and accuracy. 

Highly recommended, this book based on Holm’s family history, offers a window into the Great Depression and into Key West with a Little Rascals feel. It would make an excellent read aloud but an even better beach read.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

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