Saturday, August 31, 2013
Breakers, burgers, and stories for my nine-year-old self:
Today was a rare Saturday, one in which my Dad was in town and none of us had to juggle pre-existing plans. Miraculous! So we took a little family road trip down south, just one of those ambling, rambling drives that we never seem to get to do anymore. Just before we headed out the door, I grabbed Jennifer L Holm's Turtle in Paradise from my to-read pile, thinking it might be just the thing for roadtrip reading.
It turned out to be the perfect story for a sun-kissed afternoon on the coast (an afternoon in which wind and waves and whales and burgers and lighthouses featured heavily) because Turtle in Paradise is set in Florida's Key West during the '30s and having the wind in my hair and the tang of salt on my tongue made it all the more easy to dive into the dirt-between-your-toes, turtle-soup tale of childhood. It was everything my nine-year-old self could have desired. To begin with, the blunt and opinionated narrator, Turtle, makes lots of references to life as an orphan (even though, strictly speaking, she's not motherless; her mother has just sent her to live with relatives during the summer). I was obsessed with the idea of orphanages when I was young. Like Turtle, I overdosed on Little Orphan Annie and her world sounded kind of amazing. Then, too, there are kids roaming free in a neighbourhood that exists just to foster their spirit of adventure -- without letting things get too dangerous. There's a hint of a family mystery and also some buried treasure. Perfect summer kids' reading.
The grown up part of me appreciated things that my nine-year-old self would've missed. I loved the gentle discussion of the Depression and the particular challenges it posed for the working class. I loved the portrayal of solid, healthy adults who grieve and struggle and make mistakes, but who are safe and good people. I also enjoyed the historical details that slipped into the text in perfectly natural ways.
In spite of some serious and challenging concepts like poverty, illegitimacy, family conflict, and deception (all of which are discussed in really sensible ways), this is a sunshiny book. After spending a lot of time in young adult fiction lately, it's been nice to be reminded of the sweetness of junior fiction. I know my niece Amelia will love reading this one in a few years' time.