Reviews for Turtle in Paradise

Booklist Reviews 2010 April #2
*Starred Review* Eleven-year-old Turtle is not one to suffer fools gladly. And she runs into a lot of fools, especially the no-goods her starry-eyed mother meets. So it's a tough little Turtle who arrives in Key West in June of 1935. She's been sent to Florida to stay with relatives because her mother's latest housekeeping job doesn't allow children. Unfortunately, Mama has neglected to tell Aunt Minnie she's coming, and Turtle gets the stink eye from cousins with monikers like Buddy and Beans. As Turtle soon learns, everything is different in Key West, from the fruit hanging on trees to the scorpions in nightgowns to the ways kids earn money. She can't be part of her cousins' Diaper Gang (no girls allowed), which takes care of fussy babies, but when she finds a treasure map, she hopes she'll be on Easy Street like Little Orphan Annie. Holm uses family stories as the basis for this tale, part romp, part steely-eyed look at the Depression era. Reminiscent of Addie in the movie Paper Moon, Turtle is just the right mixture of knowingness and hope; the plot is a hilarious blend of family dramas seasoned with a dollop of adventure. The many references to 1930s entertainments (Terry and the Pirates, Shirley Temple) will mostly go over kids' heads, but they'll get how much comics and movies meant to a population desperate for smiles. An author's note (with photos) shows Holm's family close-up. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2010 May
Behind the Book: Family stories lead to Key West novel

This book started out with a story my mom liked to tell about her childhood. She grew up in New Jersey with her mother and maternal grandparents. Her grandmother (Nana) was from Key West, Florida. During the summers, Nana would take my mom to Key West to visit relatives there. My mom didn’t really like going to Key West. It was a long drive by car, and Key West in July is hot and sticky and people didn’t have air conditioning back then like they do now. But strangest of all to my mom was what her mother told her to do in Key West: she was to “shake out her shoes” before she put them on. My mom didn’t know why her mother wanted her to do this, but she did it anyway. And then one day, she shook her shoes and out popped… a scorpion!

Writing Turtle in Paradise was a wonderful way to reconnect with my Key West heritage. My great-grandmother, Jennie Lewin Peck, emigrated from the Bahamas to Key West at the turn of the century. She considered herself a “Conch,” what the local Key West folks called themselves, after the native mollusk that so many fished for in the Bahamas. Nana was always talking about how she missed sugar apple ice cream and Spanish limes. When my editor, Shana Corey, started asking me about Nana and my Key West family, I just knew that there was a story somewhere in there.

Researching this book was also an interesting way to experience a different side of living through the Great Depression. While Key West suffered significant economic hardship (the town went bankrupt and the majority of the citizens were on economic relief), it didn’t have the same sort of feel as most of the depression stories I was used to hearing—soup lines, tent cities and the Dust Bowl. Key West was warm for one thing, and there was plenty of free food, courtesy of the sea; one man told me he ate lobster during the Depression! Key West was a freewheeling town full of characters and bygone industries—sponge fishing, rumrunners and, of course, pirates! It had all the ingredients for a fabulous setting.

The main character, Turtle, grew out of my fascination with Shirley Temple. To be blunt, I never really liked Shirley Temple, even when I was a kid. She was so perfect—those ringlet curls! That smile! And she could tap-dance! (Have I mentioned I was “asked” to leave ballet class when I was six?). Needless to say, Turtle shares my opinion of Shirley Temple. She’s tough and scrappy and has seen it all with her single mother.

Turtle’s mom gets a job as a live-in housekeeper and the new boss doesn’t like kids, so poor Turtle is sent to Key West to live with family she’s never met. Suddenly, Turtle is thrust into a hot, strange place full of rumors of pirate treasure and ornery boy cousins with funny nicknames. Does Turtle get a Hollywood ending like Shirley Temple? Well, you’ll have to read Turtle in Paradise to find out.

And if you happen to go to Key West, take my advice: shake out your shoes!

Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Fall
It's 1935, and narrator Turtle is sent to live in Key West. With her stoic nature and quick wits, she's able to fit in with her boy cousins. Turtle's voice is tart and world-weary. Though her narrative is peppered with references from the time, modern-day readers will have no trouble relating, and the fast-moving plot will keep them interested to the end. Reading list, websites. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2010 #3
Narrator Turtle's voice is tart and world-weary, and she is under no illusions about her own kind, declaring, "Kids are rotten." It's 1935, and when her housekeeper mother's new job doesn't allow children, she is sent to live with her aunt in Key West, where everyone goes without shoes and is called by a nickname like Pork Chop or Slow Poke. With her stoic nature and her quick wits, Turtle is able to fit in with her boy cousins and their friends (though they won't let her help with their Diaper Gang babysitting business), and she even manages to outmaneuver the elderly woman she is sent to feed who keeps knocking her food to the floor. The episodic novel includes details, events, and figures from history (including those from Holm's own family), and Turtle's narrative is peppered with references from the time, as she compares herself to Little Orphan Annie and gladly avoids going to a Shirley Temple movie. Modern-day readers will have no trouble relating to Turtle, though, and the fast-moving plot will keep them interested to the end. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2010 April #2
Eleven-year-old Turtle falls in with the Diaper Gang--her boy cousins Beans, Kermit and Buddy and their friends Ira and Pork Chop--when she is packed off to stay in her mother's hometown of Key West because her housekeeper mother has a new job with a woman who doesn't like kids. It's 1935, and the enterprising boys offer baby care to exhausted mothers in exchange for candy because no one has any money to spare. Glimpses of Southern decay and charm add to the sense of otherness that Turtle finds in the heat, the occasional scorpion, the windfall fruit and the hint of Bahamian and Cuban roots. Her encounters with the cantankerous invalid grandmother she never knew and with Slow Poke, a sponge fisherman whose gray eyes match her own, hint at the importance of this homecoming. Turtle's discovery of the charms of family is as valuable as the pirate treasure the children weather a hurricane to find. Holm's voice for Turtle is winning and authentic--that of a practical, clear-eyed observer--and her nimble way with dialogue creates laugh-out-loud moments. Sweet, funny and superb. (Historical fiction. 9-13) Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Media Connection Reviews 2010 August/September
This book is based on the life of Jennifer Holm?s great grandmother. The characters in the story are realistic, and readers will find themselves and their friends reflected in these pages. Turtle is sent to live with relatives in Key West, Florida, while her mother works in New Jersey. She quickly becomes a member of her aunt?s household. Much of the story is placed in the context of the Great Depression, including references to historical facts and personalities. Although it is unlikely that readers will be able to make those connections, there are notes, resources, and a list of websites to use as references. This book is best suited as a read-aloud where the background of the story has already been established. Additional Selection. Cheryl Whitmore Stevens, Librarian, Tolland (Connecticut) High School ¬ 2010 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 May #1

Turtle, the witty 11-year-old narrator of this standout historical novel, is a straight shooter: "Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco Wafers, but I've lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten." When her romantic and unrealistic mother, who's always falling in and out of love, gets a housekeeping job that won't allow children, she sends Turtle to her estranged family in Depression-era Key West. Though her mother hails Key West as paradise, Turtle initially think it's a dump ("Truth is, the place looks like a broken chair that's been left out in the sun to rot"). Two-time Newbery Honor author Holm again crafts a winning heroine who, despite her hardened exterior, gradually warms to her eccentric family members, including her unruly cousins and waspish grandmother (who Turtle thought was dead). Infused with period pop culture references, a strong sense of place, and the unique traditions and culture of Key West natives (aka "Conchs"), this humorous adventure effectively portrays Turtle as caught between her mother's Hollywood-inspired dreams and the very real family and geography that offer a different kind of paradise. Ages 8-12. (May)

[Page 52]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal Reviews 2010 April

Gr 3-5--In 1935, jobs are hard to come by, and Turtle's mother is lucky to find work as a live-in housekeeper. When she learns that her employer can't stand children, she sends her 11-year-old daughter from New Jersey to Key West to live with relatives. Turtle discovers a startlingly different way of life amid boisterous cousins, Nana Philly, and buried treasure. This richly detailed novel was inspired by Holm's great-grandmother's stories. Readers who enjoy melodic, humorous tales of the past won't want to miss it.--Stephanie Malosh, Vernon Area Public Library, Lincolnshire, IL

[Page 160]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.