Thursday, August 27, 2015

Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer Holm

Eleven-year-old Turtle has had a rough go of things.  Raised by her single mother and her various short-term boyfriends, she's never been in one place for very long.  She's taken enough abuse at the hands of the kids of her mother's various employers to know to expect the worst of most anyone.  But her mother's new boyfriend, Archie, seems different.  He makes their little unit feel like more of a family, buying Turtle a new pair of much-needed shoes over flash gifts that other boyfriends gave to impress her mother.  And they have plans.  They've picked out a prefab house from the Sears Roebuck catalog and once enough money has been saved, they'll be able to be a family forever.

There's a catch.

Turtle's mother has taken a new job as a housekeeper, and the homeowner won't welcome a child with her new employee.  So Turtle is sent to the Florida Keys to live with her mother's sister, Minnie, and her family.  Turtle has never seen this kind of poverty before.  No one wears shoes at all, clothes are ragged, homes are shacks.  No one has money.  Her cousins work for candy, babysitting the neighborhood infants and treating diaper rash with a secret formula.

Turtle is slowly accepted by the neighborhood, children and adults alike.  She also learns that her mother's mother is still living, despite what her mother had told her.  The victim of a stroke, Nana Philly is a mean and grumpy old lady.  Nonetheless, Turtle eventually becomes the one responsible for bringing her grandmother's lunch every day.  During one of these visits, she accidentally collapses the termite-eaten piano and finds a treasure map inside.  She decides to enlist the Diaper Gang as comrades to set out for it on their own.

This was a fun read which introduced me to a people, lifestyle, and a time that I wasn't especially familiar with.  I enjoyed getting to know the community along with Turtle, and seeing the results of her adventure.  I just wish that the ending hadn't come on so suddenly!

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