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)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2010:
“Sweet, funny and superb”
Starred Review, Booklist, April 15, 2010:
"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."
Review, School Library Journal, April 2010:
"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."
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
It's 1935, and eleven-year-old Turtle's mama has been hired as a housekeeper for a lady who doesn't like children. Turtle's shipped off to Key West, Florida, to stay with her aunt whom she's never met, whereby hangs a tale of a wild, free childhood in a hardscrabble time. Florida too, is a sweet, wild sort of place, to which Holm (Our Only May Amelia, Babymouse, and others) brings her characteristically deft touch and trademark humor. Turtle may know of Shirley Temple but she can't stand her, and her acerbic commentary on the world of the movies threads itself through her story. Her cousins are part of a local band dubbing themselves "The Diaper Gang"no girls allowedand "We watch babies. Bad ones." It's a time of chaos and adventure, as rich in humanity as it is in evocative detail. Florida is every bit as exotic a setting as any faraway land, and every stroke of description in the narrative (turtle kraals, sponges, the fried balls of dough called bollos, pirate treasure) is essential to the story. Holm is relentless in pushing her young character to the edge, with apparent triumph quickly followed by heartbreak. Breathe, and there's reconciliation, and picture-perfect hope dawning once more. And wait just a minute! There's Papa Hemingway in a cameo role, before it all sweeps to a lovely tender moment that amply fulfills the promise of the opening. An afterword provides information on family and local lore, and on the history of Key West during the Depression. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—Set in 1935, 11-year-old Turtle is sent off to her aunt in the Florida Keys when her mother gets a job in New Jersey as a live-in housekeeper for a woman who doesn't like children. Turtle's mother is a dreamer who pins her hopes on every new man she meets and, as each one disappears, Turtle becomes more of a pragmatist. Ever adaptable, she works to fit in with her wacky boy cousins (reminiscent of The Little Rascals but called The Diaper Gang) and all the colorful characters she finds in the small community of Key West. Along the way she discovers a grandmother she did not know existed and, through her, a pirate's treasure. The book (Random, 2010) was inspired by Jennifer Holmes's great-grandmother's stories. Narrator Becca Battoe perfectly portrays Turtle and distinctly voices the entire cast of characters. Listeners get a perfect sense of Florida's heat, the ennui of the kids, and the laid back community struggling through the Depression. This audiobook brings a whole new dimension to an already splendid novel.—Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisburg, VA
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)
Read an Excerpt
Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco Wafers, but I've lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten. The only difference between grown-ups and kids is that grown-ups go to jail for murder. Kids get away with it.
I stare out the window as Mr. Edgit's Ford Model A rumbles along the road, kicking up clouds of dust. It's so hot that the backs of my legs feel like melted gum, only stickier. We've been driving for days now; it feels like eternity. In front of us is a rusty pickup truck with a gang of dirty-looking kids in the back sandwiched between furniture--an iron bed, a rocking chair, battered pots--all tied up with little bits of fraying rope like a spiderweb. A girl my age is holding a baby that's got a pair of ladies' bloomers tied on its head to keep the sun out of its eyes. The boy sitting next to her has a gap between his two front teeth. Not that this stops him from blowing spitballs at us through a straw. We've been stuck behind this truckfor the last few miles, and our windshield is covered with wadded bits of wet newspaper.
A spitball smacks the window and Mr. Edgit hammers the horn with the palm of his hand. The no-good boy just laughs and sticks out his tongue.
"There oughta be a law. No wonder this country's going to the dogs," Mr. Edgit grumbles.
Mr. Edgit ("You can call me Lyle") has a lot of opinions. He says folks in the Dust Bowl wouldn't be having so much trouble if they'd just move near some water. He says he doesn't think President Roosevelt will get us out of this Depression and that if you give someone money for not working why would they ever bother to get a job? But mostly Mr. Edgit talks about a new hair serum he's selling that's going to make him rich. It's called Hair Today, and he's a believer. He's used the product himself.
"Can you see the new hair, Turtle?" he asks, pointing at his shiny bald head.
I don't see anything. It must grow invisible hair.
Maybe Archie should start selling hair serum. If his pal Mr. Edgit's anything to go by, most men would rather have hair than be smart. Archie's a traveling salesman. He's sold everything--brushes, gadgets, Bibles, you name it. Right now he's peddling encyclopedias.
"I could sell a trap to a mouse," Archie likes to say, and it's the truth. Housewives can't resist him. I know Mama couldn't.
It was last May, one day after my tenth birthday, when I opened the door of Mrs. Grant's house and saw Archie standing there. He had dark brown eyes and thick black hair brushed back with lemon pomade.
"Well, hello there," Archie said to me, tipping his Panama hat. "Is the lady of the house at home?"
"Which lady?" I asked. "The ugly one or the pretty one?"
He laughed. "Why, ain't you a sweet little thing."
"I'm not sweet," I said. "I slugged Ronald Caruthers when he tried to throw my cat in the well, and I'd do it again." Archie roared with laughter. "I'll bet you would! What's your name, princess?"
"Turtle," I said.
"Turtle, huh?" he mused, stroking his chin. "I can see why. Got a little snap to you, don't ya?"
"Who's that you're talking to, Turtle?" my mother called, coming to the door.
Archie smiled at Mama. "You must be the pretty lady."
Mama put her hand over her heart. Otherwise it would have leaped right out of her chest. She fell so hard for Archie she left a dent in the floor.
Mama's always falling in love, and the fellas she picks are like dandelions. One day they're there, bright as sunshine--charming Mama, buying me presents--and the next they're gone, scattered to the wind, leaving weeds everywhere and Mama crying.
But Mama says Archie's different, and I'm starting to think she may be right. He keeps his promises, and he hasn't disappeared yet. Even Smokey likes him, which is saying something, considering she bit the last fella Mama dated. Also, he's got big dreams,which is more than I can say for most of them.
"Mark my words, princess," Archie told me. "We'll be living on Easy Street someday."
From the Hardcover edition.