Study Guide

Turtle in Paradise Setting

By Jennifer L. Holm

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Key West, June 1935

Turtle's tale takes place at a very specific time and place in history. It starts with her journey down to Key West, where the rest of the novel occurs, and importantly, this Floridian setting is the place Turtle's mom comes from. So before she's even seen it, Turtle has heard all about how beautiful and marvelous Key West is… but when she gets there, it's a different story. She tells us:

Truth is, the place looks like a broken chair that's been left out in the sun to rot. The houses are small and narrow, lined up close together, and most of them haven't been painted in a long time. There's trash piled everywhere. It's so hot and humid it hurts to breathe. (2.6)

Ick. Doesn't sound like paradise to us. And Turtle's disappointment at Key West is a big deal—it helps us understand her character much better and gives us a central theme in the book (more on that in the "Themes" section). It also gives us clues about how people felt during the 1930s, since many were disappointed with their lives in general.

Why? It was the Great Depression, the worst collapse in the history of American capitalism. Throughout the 1930s, neither the free market nor the federal government were able to get the country working again, and the American people endured a full decade of almost unbelievable economic misery.

Turtle and her family are hit with this reality, too. It's why her mom has to take a job without her or why her uncle is always gone from Aunt Minnie's place. In a lot of ways, Turtle's bummed attitude with Key West and her family mirrors what millions of Americans were going through at the time. Everyone was navigating pretty epic disappointment.

Turtle in Paradise Setting Study Group

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