Adjusting To Paradise: ‘Turtle In Paradise: The Graphic Novel’ Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar


When going to live with someone you’ve never met before, it helps if the person knows you are coming. Turtle finds this out the hard way in Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel.


To Turtle’s mom, the Florida Keys are paradise. For Turtle, it’s a place where “avocados” are “alligator pears” and kids don’t wear shoes. The title, Turtle in Paradise, may side with Turtle’s mom, but it’s Turtle who has to live there after her mom’s boss refuses to let her stay with them.

Adapted from a novel by Jennifer L. Holm, Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel begins with Turtle on her way to Florida. The year is 1935 and Turtle is eleven years old. Since her mom has to work, a family friend is driving her, and in book time, it goes by pretty fast but Turtle’s traveling from New Jersey so it’s a long time to be sitting in a car.

To make matters worse, Turtle has never met her aunt or cousins before, but was told they’d be expecting her. What Turtle’s mom left out when she said she sent her sister a letter was that Aunt Minerva hadn’t written back yet, leaving Turtle to show up at her aunt’s door, an uninvited guest.

From the very first line of narration, Holm makes Turtle a character you want to get to know better. It’s one thing to not relate to other kids your age but Turtle won’t even associate with them, as evidenced by her saying, “Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco Wafers. / But I’ve lived long enough to know the truth.” Wise beyond her years and jaded at the same time, she’s someone who’s both of her time and extremely relatable.

It’s not just the adults who are feeling the strain of the Great Depression in this story. You can see it in their entrepreneurial kids. Turtle’s cousins are in charge of The Diaper Gang. It’s basically a male Babysitter’s Club but, while their “no girls allowed” policy is juvenile, they take the work seriously. It’s not The Little Rascals, where babies would be wandering off and crawling into danger. A lot of stories focus on young boys getting in trouble, but Turtle in Paradise shows them being skilled at their jobs.

From the clear, blue skies to the turquoise waters, Lark Pien’s colors couldn’t be more inviting (like the colors in a travel brochure – almost too good to be true), while Savanna Ganucheau’s art makes you fall in love with the place as much as the people in a way that true to the title. Ganucheau’s Florida is paradise but that doesn’t make living there a breeze.

Holm’s control of language is remarkable and there’s so much to read between the lines, like when Turtle asks her cousin, “Who’s that coming down the lane?” and Beans replies, “Thought you knew everyone by now, Tortoise,” before realizing it’s his dad. Without having to spell anything out, Holm is able to get across how much work keeps Poppy away.

Because the book is broken into mini chapters, it’s easy to stop and start if you’re reading with kids, and there’s some great process stuff in the back about the research that went into creating this graphic novel.

Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel is available now from Random House Graphic.

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