Holm, Jennifer L. Turtle in Paradise. 2010. Random House Audio. Audiobook $25.00. ISBN 9780307738301.
Slowly but surely, I'm catching up with the last round of Newbery books before the next batch is announced in January! I liked this story about a girl who is sent to live with her aunt and cousins in Key West, Florida, during the hard times of the 1930s. I didn't quite love it, but I liked it.
With its spunky main character and lighthearted tone, I would hand Turtle in Paradise to any elementary schooler with a historical fiction assignment. Despite the fact that there's a girl on the cover, boys and girl readers can enjoy this story equally-- there are plenty of hilarious boy characters.
The episodic feel of this book had me wondering where the plot was, even as far as halfway through the story. And then, after much meandering, I was a bit thrown off by the book's implausible climax, and an ending that felt abrupt to me. But if you like episodic plots, this is the book for you!
To me, it's the setting and characters that shine in this book. The character of Turtle provides some great laugh-out-loud moments with her snappy one-liners, especially involving her distaste for the saccharine child actress, Shirley Temple.
The Depression-era setting is effectively evoked through references to pop culture of the time, such as radio shows and comic strips-- which were called "the funny pages," of course. My grandma used that phrase! When did it go out of fashion, I wonder?
I listened to this book on CD, and highly recommend it in audio format. The narrator, Becca Battoe, is completely delightful. She has a soft Southern accent, which sometimes comes through even in the characters who are supposed to be Northern, but I was so charmed by it, it's easy to overlook any inconsistency. Her pacing is perfect, and (hooray!) she sounds appropriately youthful for a middle grade novel told from a first-person point of view. She suits the sassy character of Turtle perfectly, and her performance really enhanced my experience with this book.
Any young reader who likes historical fiction will find a great deal of charm in Turtle in Paradise.