In 1935, Key West, Florida is not exactly the vacation paradise it is today. It’s the middle of the Great Depression, many people are out of work, and no one has any money. It’s hot, humid and you have to be sure to shake your shoes out before putting them on, deadly scorpions are everywhere. Even with all this adversity there's a special sense of community. Everyone looks out for one another and communication travels quickly throughout the Key’s special “conch telegraph” system. Life is simpler and seems to go at a slower pace in the Keys.
Eleven-year-old Turtle has never been to Florida but has heard her mother, Sadiebelle, share wondrous stories of growing up in the Keys. Then her mother lands a job as a housekeeper and children are not allowed. There is no choice but to send Turtle to live with Aunt Minerva down in Key West. As if moving from New Jersey to Florida wasn’t culture shock enough, Turtle discovers she’ll be living with three boy cousins, Beans, Kermit, and Buddy, as well.
Turtle is nothing if not adaptable. Soon she has assimilated to life in the Keys, joins the boys on their daily rounds with the Diaper Gang, and becomes aquatinted with the locals, including a very curious writer nicknamed “Papa”. (Turtle feels compelled to offer him advice. If he ever wants to become famous he needs to listen to her.) She even manages to find a part-time job fishing for sponges with a local fisherman, Slow Poke. She also becomes friends with the meanest woman in the Keys, Nana Philly, and then discovers a startling connection. Still, Turtle misses her mother and wishes for a way for them to be together again. But how can that happen?
This book has been on my TBR (to be read) pile since last summer when I read many favorable reviews and postings on blogs and Twitter. As I was packing for vacation the silver Newbery Honor medal on it’s cover caught my eye, so I threw it in my tote thinking it might be a good summer read. I can honestly say I did not want this story to end! I want to go back to Key West and read about the next chapters in Turtle’s life with her extended family.