“You’ve got a club called the diaper gang? What do you do? Change diapers?” the protagonist asks a bunch of boys, tone filled with sarcasm. The boys look at her as if she is “dumb as a post” and one of them responds in a matter of fact tone – ‘course we change diapers, that’s why we are called the diaper gang’.
That’s the kind of simple humor that readers will find sprinkled throughout Jennifer L Holm’s novel ‘Turtle In Paradise’. It’s meant for children, although adults might equally enjoy this tale of a 11-year-old girl Turtle, who is packed off to her aunt’s house in Key West, in a poor community living on public relief. It’s heartening how despite the impoverished setting, the author manages to write an optimistic fun tale about a bunch of cheeky kids. Turtle doesn’t really like her first cousins at first sight, they are all a bunch of dirty little boys and they have a club that helps tired women out with their babies in exchange for candy. Money is hard around, it’s the 1930s, the time of the great depression, every body is in need of a job and some hope.
The story is in first person, narrated by Turtle, who comes across as a dry miss ‘know it all’. She loves listening to the radio and isn’t fond of the child-star Shirley Temple, who everybody else seems to be fond of. The little boys in the novel are absolute imps, somewhere between adorable mongrels and evil rascals. It was amusing to see the unruly bunch run a gang that takes care of babies and doesn’t allow girls to be members. Wouldn’t mothers in the real life love that? A world where men are completely in-charge of baby-care, while the moms relax a little and take care of other things!
In the author’s note, Jennifer talks about how the story was inspired from her great-grandmother’s life, who used to live in Key-West. So a lot of characters are based on real people, giving them a touch of authenticity. Most people in the area depend on fishing for their livelihood and the author does a fantastic job of conjuring up a friendly community. Folks may not have money, but still look out for each other.
The language is simple but laden with a lot of colloquial American terms, some of which are specific to the 1930s era. So a few things will be lost on both young and old readers, especially if they aren’t Americans. There is a sub-plot about a treasure-hunt, that felt a little abrupt. It pops out of nowhere, kind of like a storm that rips through the town in the latter half of the book. Nobody likes a bad storm. Although, it might seem forced and out of place only for adult readers like me. Kids might love it.
The climax is practical, sweet and heart-warming. It’s a 3.5/5 from me.