Turtle in Paradise

by Jennifer L. Holm
ages: 9+
First sentence: “Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco Wafers, but I’ve lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten.”
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Turtle lives with her mom in New Jersey and has (mostly) become accustomed to her role as “the housekeeper’s kid”. It doesn’t mean kids are nice, but her mom has a job, and since it’s the middle of the Depression, that’s a good thing. Then her mom starts working for a woman who makes Mr. Scrooge look cheery, and Turtle finds herself shipped off to Key West, Florida to live with her mother’s sister.

And all the boy cousins.

There’s Bean and Kermit and Buddy and their friends Pork Chop and Ira. They are incredibly amusing and adorable, these boys: at times fierce and downright mean, at other times completely sweet. They are the Diaper Gang: going around island, helping out mothers of babies, taking care of them in return for candy. They even have a super-secret formula for taking care of rashes on babies’ bungys.

The book is mostly about painting a picture of life in the Keys during late-summer. It’s all about mood and place and experience. There are a few adventures, as Turtle finds her way around the town, and discovers things about the island and her past and her family and belonging that she couldn’t have found out had she not visited. But the plot is almost incidental to the book. And it didn’t really matter. Turtle and the boys were entertaining enough; besides, it felt right for the lazy pace of life in the Keys. If there was a lot of action, rushing around from place to place, it wouldn’t have felt as gorgeously summery as the book did.

And I wouldn’t have traded all the action in the world for that.

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