Turtle in Paradise Review

I’m back! The past couple of weeks have been crazy busy! On top of all my other duties, I’ve been preparing for the summer reading club (SRC), doing 53 class visits promoting the SRC, and hiring SRC students! Phew. I finally have time to read fiction again! Hurray! While I’ve been listing to a ton of audiobooks (including the very sweet, Dewey the Library Cat by Vicki Myron), I haven’t been able to focus on my ever-growing ‘TO READ’ list. This weekend allowed me to reconnect with the pile of books collecting in my living room. Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm (2010) called to me first.

 From Goodreads, “Life isn’t like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple. She’s smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it’s 1935, and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce. So when Turtle’s mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn’t like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to stay with relatives she’s never met. Florida’s like nothing Turtle has ever seen. It’s hot and strange, full of wild green peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what’s happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she has spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways.”


-For the most part, I loved this book (and I’m usually not one for historical fiction). I think was due to Holm’s ability to weave historical details into the story, making it educational without feeling forced. Not only was the story based on true family tales but also it is clear that research was done to ensure accuracy.  Although this book is intended for a younger audience, I definitely learned about a lot about Key West (now I really want to visit!). Moreover, I appreciated the author’s notes and photographs at the end of the novel that described her inspirations.

-Turtle’s character is relatable. There are so many words to describe her, but above all, she’s a smart, witty and strong 11 year-old.

Here’s a quote from Turtle:

” Our eyes are different, though. I think the color of a person’s eyes says a lot about them. Mama has soft blue eyes, and all she sees is kittens and roses. My eyes are gray as soot, and I see things for what they are. The mean boy on the porch has green eyes. Probably from all the snot in his nose.” (p.17).

Growing up in the Great Depression, Turtle doesn’t expect some Hollywood ending—life isn’t a Shirley Temple movie.  Unlike her mother, Turtle is realistic.  Readers learn that she actually obtained the nickname ‘Turtle’ for her hard, unemotional exterior. Although for the most part Turtle was true to her nickname, at times, we were also shown glimpses of a more vulnerable girl.  I think Holm did an excellent job creating the memorable character that is Turtle.


Although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I think many readers will agree that the ending wrapped too quickly. It was so abrupt that I had to go back and re-read it because I was so confused how it could just end like that. While I wasn’t that surprised, I would have liked a little more details.


In my opinion, I would recommend this book to middle school students interested in adventure and historical fiction. Although the cover may appeal more to girls, I think that boys would find the Diaper Gang hilarious and enjoy the adventure when the Gang searches for buried treasure. For those looking for a Turtle in Paradise read-alike, I would recommend the 2011 Newberry Award Winner, Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (also set during the Great Depression).



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