Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Turtle in Paradise

Turtle in Paradise

Jennifer L. Holm
For ages 8 to 10
Random House, 2011   ISBN: 978-0375836909

For much of her life Turtle has lived in other people’s homes. To provide for herself and her daughter, Turtle’s mother, Sadiebelle, works as a housekeeper, and the life they lead is often very hard. What makes it even harder is the fact that Sadiebelle has rotten taste in men. All she wants in a fella is a man who will love and care for her, and all she ends up with are fellas who let her down, leave her, and break her heart. In spite of all these disappointments, Sadiebelle never stops hoping that her dream of a loving husband and a home of her own will come true one day. Turtle does not allow herself to have such hopes. She knows all too well that life is hard and full of disappointments. The pragmatic and pessimistic ten year old carefully protects herself by having a hard emotional shell around her so that she cannot be hurt; which is why she is called Turtle.

Sadiebelle’s latest job is in the home of a rich and hard woman who does not like children, and so Sadiebelle sends Turtle to live with her sister in Key West. When Turtle arrives, Aunt Minnie is not expecting her, and she is by no means delighted to have another mouth to feed. She has three boys of her own to take care of and the country is in the grip of the Great Depression, so there is very little money to be hard. Thankfully, family still counts for something in Key West and so Aunt Minnie takes in Turtle. And her cat Smokey.

Key West is nothing like New Jersey, and in spite of the fact that she is missing her mama a great deal, Turtle cannot help being interested in the place. Most of the locals are pretty friendly and they welcome Turtle to their community – the one where Sadiebelle grew up – except for Beans, Turtles’s cousin. Beans is upset about having to give up his bedroom and he generally does not want Turtle around. He makes it clear that he only puts up with her because he has no choice in the matter. Beans makes his displeasure felt by announcing that Turtle is not allowed to join the Diaper Gang, a babysitting company that Beans runs with a firm hand. Beans’ hostile attitude does not have much of an impact on Turtle. She has known plenty of kids who were a lot nastier than him.

While she waits for her mother to find a better job, or get married to her boyfriend, Turtle gets on with life. The girl gets herself a job working on a sponge boat, and she thoroughly enjoys the time she spends with Slow Poke, the man who owns the boat. He tells her great stories, and she learns that it is said that a pirate called Black Caesar buried treasure in the Keys.

When Turtle is asked to deliver a meal to an old lady she does as she is asked, and it is only later that she finds out that the old lady is Sadiebelle’s mother, Turtle’s grandmother. Turtle wants to get to know the old lady, but she is grumpy, and the fact that she had a stroke a while ago does not help the situation. Nana Philly is said to be a mean person and all the kids are afraid of her. Except Turtle. Turtle is made of sterner stuff and she stands up to the old woman. She never imagines that building a relationship with her grandmother will end up launching her on an adventure that might end up doing her in.

Set during the height of the Great Depression, and based on stories and characters from her own family story, Jennifer Holm brings readers a tale that is funny, poignant, and thought-provoking.