Readalikes: Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Soup by Robert Newton Peck, The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald, Flush by Carl Hiaassen.
Related Movies: The Goonies, Little Rascals, Annie, (NOT Shirley Temple).
Song: Mississippi Squirrel Revival
Key West, Florida, June, 1935.
Take one eleven year girl named Turtle with eyes as “gray as soot” who sees things exactly as they are. Plunk her down in Key West, Florida with her Aunt Minnie the Diaper Gang and a bunch of Conch (adj. native or resident of the Florida Keys) relatives and Conch cousins with nicknames like Pork Chop and Too Bad and Slow Poke. Leave her starry-eyed mama back in New Jersey keeping house for Mrs. Budnick who doesn’t like children and dreaming of being married to Archie, the encyclopedia salesman. Add in an ornery grandmother that Turtle didn’t know she had and a cat named Smokey and a dog named Termite.
All of that put together by author Jennifer L. Holm makes a story that reminded me of the above movies and and books and song but at the same time had its own feel and flavor. Turtle is a great little anti-Pollyanna who hates Shirley Temple and knows that “kids are rotten,” especially boys. The Diaper Gang is the Conch version of Our Gang with a wagon for babysitting bad babies and a secret formula for curing diaper rash. And if you’re a fan of the movie The Goonies, you should enjoy Turtle in Paradise, and vice-versa.
I leave you with a recipe from the book that gives you yet another comparative flavor and indication of the appeal of this story:
“After we finish swimming, we have a cut-up. A cut-up is something these Conch kids do every chance they get. Each kid brings whatever they can find lying around or hanging on a tree–sugar apple, banana, mango, pineapple, alligator pear, guava, cooed potatoes, and even raw onions. They cut it all up and season it with Old Sour which is made from key lime juice, salt and hot peppers. Then they pass it around with a fork, and everyone takes a bite. It’s the strangest fruit salad I’ve ever had, but it’s tasty.”