Turtle in Paradise Summary

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm is a 2010 historical novel about Turtle, a girl who moves to Key West to live with her extended family during the Great Depression.

  • Turtle’s mother sends her to Key West, where she slowly fits in with her aunt, cousins, and grandmother.
  • Turtle finds a treasure map in her grandmother’s piano. She and her friends travel to a nearby island, find a cache of pirate treasure, and become stranded by a hurricane.
  • The children return and profit from the treasure. The arrival of Turtle’s mother leads to an unexpected change of fortune.

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Last Updated on April 12, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 768

When Turtle’s mother, Sadiebelle, gets a job as a housekeeper with a rich old lady who dislikes children, she sends Turtle, who is eleven, to live with her Aunt Minnie and her cousins in Key West. Turtle is initially unimpressed by the ramshackle buildings and stifling heat of the island and receives an indifferent reception from her aunt and a hostile one from her cousin Beans. Their house is small and crowded, and the family is poor enough without another mouth to feed.

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However, Turtle soon finds herself acclimating to her new environment. This is made easier by the fact that she is related to many people on the island; moreover, the network of gossip, the “Conch Telegraph,” quickly informs everybody of her arrival. She secures some occasional work helping out a fisherman called Slow Poke, whose main work consists of harvesting sponges from the sea for sale. She also becomes closer to Beans and his friends Pork Chop and Ira, who, with Beans’s younger brother, Kermit, have a business looking after babies and are collectively known as “the Diaper Gang.”

Turtle also meets her grandmother, Nana Philly, who had been a frightening old woman who terrorized the local children, until she was paralyzed by a fall the previous year. It is well known that Nana Philly hates kids, but she eventually takes a liking to Turtle, who shows that she is not intimidated by the old lady’s forbidding manner and appearance. When Aunt Minnie insists that Turtle get rid of her cat, Smokey, Nana Philly takes Smokey in so that Turtle can still see her every day.

One day, Smokey falls through the lid of Nana Philly’s piano, which, like much of her house, is crumbling away, as it is eaten by termites. When Turtle rescues the cat from the piano, she finds a cigar box, with a gold coin and a map inside. The map claims to show where the notorious pirate, Black Caesar, buried his treasure. Turtle wants to consult Slow Poke about this, but he is away from Key West, so she shows the map and coin to the Diaper Gang, and they all decide to search for the treasure.

Beans realizes that the map depicts a small island close to Key West, known as the “sponger’s key.” Early the next day, the children—Turtle, Beans, Pork Chop, Ira, and Kermit—steal, or “borrow,” a boat and go out to the key in search of the treasure. The island has changed so much that they find the map impossible to follow, and they are on the point of giving up and going home when Turtle trips over a stone marked with a “C” for Black Caesar. The children dig underneath the stone, and find a fortune in gold coins. However, they soon realize that their boat has drifted away and they are stranded on the island, where they pass an uncomfortable night in the spongers’ shack.

The next day, a hurricane hits the island, and the children are drenched and frightened, forced to find ineffective shelter in the shack, along with the rats who are seeking dry ground. The hurricane subsides, and the children have almost given up hope of being rescued when Slow Poke arrives in his boat. He takes them back to Key West, where they are able to sell the gold coins they have found for twenty thousand dollars. Even after they have paid back the owner of the boat they lost and divided the money six ways—between the five children and Nana Philly, since the map was hers—this still leaves them all with more money than they know how to spend.

Having heard of her daughter’s adventures, Turtle’s mother, Sadiebelle, arrives on Key West with her boyfriend, Archie, who is now her husband. They make plans to take Turtle away and settle in Georgia, where they will now be able to buy the home of which Sadiebelle and Turtle have always dreamed and live an idyllic family life. However, as Turtle and her mother are saying their goodbyes, they learn that Archie has stolen Turtle’s share of the treasure money and run away to Cuba.

Sadiebelle is distraught at Archie’s betrayal, and Turtle initially feels the same way. However, she quickly realizes that she has found a home and a family in Key West with her aunt and cousins and will be happy to stay here. This may not be a perfect ending to her story, but she feels lucky to have a kind and loving family around her.

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