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7 December 2009 TURTLE IN PARADISE by Jennifer L. Holm. Random House, May 2010, 208p., ISBN: 978-0-375-83688-6; Libr. ISBN: 978-0-375-93688-3

"He gives me a stern look.  'You in the habit of giving grown folks advice, young lady?'
"'Sure,' I say.  'You're the ones who need it most.'"
There is enough pink on the cover to kill a horse (or scare off just about any boy).  Luckily, I know how well Babymouse's mommy can write these historical novels, so I am not going to be scared off quite that easily. 
"'The Diaper Gang was Ira's idea in the first place,' Kermit tells me.
"'I'm the brains of this operation,' Ira says.
"'I wouldn't brag about that,' I say."
I sure am glad that I turned a blind eye to that cover because TURTLE IN PARADISE is a total hoot.  It had me laughing out loud page after page.
TURTLE IN PARADISE is a lively, Depression-era yarn about an eleven-year-old girl with a tough exterior named Turtle.  She has never known her father.  She has been forced to move again and again as her mother has struggled in a buyer's market to make the best of a series of horror-show, live-in housecleaning positions around the mid-Atlantic region.  Mom's latest employer -- this one in New Jersey -- can't stand children, and the times call for desperate measures, so Mom's latest boyfriend, Archie, has contracted with an acquaintance who is traveling in the right direction to deliver Turtle and her cat Smokey to Key West, Florida.  Mom hails from Key West and Turtle heads down there to squeeze into a small house with her maternal aunt and three boy cousins, none of whom she has ever previously met (and without the letter Mom mailed to Aunt Minerva having ever arrived). 
"'You get paid?' I ask. 
"'In candy,' Beans says.
"'And we got rules,' Pork Chop says with authority.
"'Oooh!  Oooh!' Buddy says.  'I know the rules!'  He squishes up his face, thinking hard.  'Uh, uh, uh, uh, let me see.  Number one is, it's, uh, um, I think it's, uh--'
"Beans cuts him off.  'First rule of the Diaper Gang is you gotta know the rules, Buddy.'
"'But I'm only four!' Buddy cries out in frustration.  'My head can't hold that many things!'" 
It seems like Turtle is related to half the neighborhood and, being that she is the spitting-image of her mom, every grownup she meets immediately wants to know whether she is related to Sadiebelle Gifford.  The question we immediately ask ourselves is whether one of the guys in town can be the father Turtle has never met.
"'How well did you know my mama, anyway?' I ask.  The other man at the table starts choking, like his drink went down the wrong pipe."
We come to find out that the grandmother who Mom told Turtle was dead is actually very much alive, and quite an ornery character, although she is now incapacitated by a stroke.  And then, thanks to Smokey, Turtle finds a long-lost treasure map...
What I really enjoyed is that Jenni Holm --who was inspired by old family stories about Key West -- keeps throwing you off balance by permitting you to discover clues.  And so you think you've figured something out -- and you have -- but what you thought was the big mystery is only another step along the path.  More surprises are coming your way... 
"...'cause when life looks like Easy Street..." (Hunter/Garcia)
you're gonna find yourself up to your ears in scorpions and smugglers, boys and baby powder, treasure and trouble...as Turtle comes to learn what home is really all about.   
Richie Partington, MLIS

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