Friday, October 8, 2010
Review of Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
When her mom gets a job as a live-in housekeeper with a lady who doesn't like kids, Turtle has to spend the summer with her aunt and cousins down in Key West, Florida. She hangs out with a bunch of boys who are members of the Diaper Gang (they watch babies in exchange for candy), meets a couple of relatives she never knew she had, searches for pirate treasure, and hopes that someday her dreams of living in a cute little house with her mom will come true.
It's 1935, and from the first page the reader is plunged into a world of Necco wafers, Ford Model As, and dusty travelers. But it isn't just a bunch of Depression-era term-dropping that brings the era alive, but rather the way that Holm uses Turtle's spunky narrative voice, the wise-cracking dialogue of the Diaper Gang, and all kinds of details large and small to great effect. In our over-protective world, it's down-right exotic to hear how these young and dirty boys haul babies around with casual and careless abandon, while the babies' moms are just happy to have some peace and quiet, and would never dream of being worried. And the snappy comebacks of the kids, especially Turtle and her cousin Beans, are reminiscent of some of the edgier Our Town episodes.
It's not that this is fiction of a hugely realistic sort. The tone is a bit too off-hand, there are a bit too many funny bits and pieces, and of course there's the matter of that pirate's treasure, not to mention a certain very famous writer. In fact, this is very much like a 1930s movie (maybe a Shirley Temple movie but without the sickly sweetness or Shirley Temple). And I mean that in a good way. For instance, there's a fabulous fairy-tale ending - but then disaster strikes. But then it all works out anyway, and much more satisfactorily! One can only sigh contentedly, as after a funny but touching movie.
I do believe that kids will find this blend of adventure and light slice-of-life quite entertaining, and the back matter, with true stories and photos about Key West and Holm's ancestors, adds even more value.
Highly recommended for ages 9 - 11.