I haven’t read any of Jennifer L. Holm’s books beyond the Babymouse series (which I adore in all of its perfect pinkness). I was looking for an audiobook a few weeks back, and I came across Turtle in Paradise, Holm’s newest solo effort. When I choose an audiobook, it’s really all about the reader. To be honest, there aren’t many audiobooks that I end up listening to all the way to the end. They often don’t hold my interest the way reading a book does, unless the performance is really strong. Some audio performances are just creepy. They sound stilted and weird or the reader’s intonation is completely monotonous. I don’t get it when the producers cast an actor for a character who is 11 or 12 or a teen, and the actor sounds like s/he is 40-something. Hmm… something not so convincing about that, I’d say. So when I find an audiobook that grabs me, with a performer who perfectly conveys the mood of the narrative, and it keeps me hooked all the way to the end, I feel lucky. Turtle in Paradise was a listening treat.
Set during the Depression in Key West, this book tells the story of Turtle, an 11-year-old filled with gumption and smarts. Her mother is a housekeeper and she takes a new job working for an older woman who hates kids, which means Turtle has to go to Florida to stay with her mother’s sister and a whole gang of cousins. When she gets there, she discovers a quirky community, very different from any place she’s lived before. Her cousins have created a gang, called the Diaper Gang, in order to earn a bit of extra cash babysitting testy infants. They are the most unlikely collection of babysitters you could imagine. Turtle spends most of her days hanging around with the gang, and the kids end up on an adventure seeking buried treasure. Turtle learns to open herself up to others, and what it means to be part of a family.
This book seems made for reading aloud. There’s a lovely rhythm to the language, and it’s plenty funny. The characters are sassy and they are all big personalities, leaping off the page and coming to life as the adventure unfolds. I’d have a hard time choosing my favourite. I would read more about this crew in a heartbeat. Holm has created a story that captures a time gone by without making the historical period an obstacle for younger readers. In fact, I’ll bet they might be eager to learn more about this time in history. It’s charming and sweet and perfect for summer. Doesn’t that cover say, “Read me at the beach” (by the lake, on the dock, under a tree, in a deck chair…)?
Turtle in Paradise is published by Random House.