Study Guide

Turtle in Paradise Disappointment

By Jennifer L. Holm

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"I could sell a trap to a mouse," Archie likes to say, and it's the truth. Housewives can't resist him. I know Mama couldn't. (1.9)

Something tells us a mouse wouldn't be so thrilled with his purchase… It's telling that this is the example that Archie uses, because he's always disappointing people. He knows he's selling traps, yet he doesn't care if he leaves people disappointed.

Mama's always falling in love, and the fellas she picks are like dandelions. One day they're there, bright as sunshine—charming Mama, buying me presents—and the next they're gone, scattered to the wind, leaving weeds everywhere and Mama crying. (1.21)

Ouch. This is one destructive cycle that Mama puts herself through. Notice how she's always disappointing herself, and in turn, Turtle. So each time she falls for a new guy, she sets herself up for disappointment, and brings her daughter along for the ride, too.

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. (2.6)

When Turtle gets to Key West, she's bummed out—it doesn't look anything like the paradise her mom explained to her. It's far from it. We can't help but wonder, though, if Mama sets everyone up for disappointment by imagining things to be better than they actually are.

Our eyes are different, though. I think the color of a person's eyes says a lot about them. Mama has soft blue eyes, and all she sees is kittens and roses. My eyes are gray as soot, and I see things for what they are. (2.38)

Their eyes might be different, and their personalities might be opposites, but Turtle is kidding herself if she thinks she can't get taken for a ride. She prides herself on seeing things how they are, yet she gets disappointed just as much as anyone else in the book. Perhaps she's not as thick-skinned as she'd like us to believe.

Because Mama works in rich folks' homes, we've had it better than most. But after looking at what Aunt Minnie sets in front of me for breakfast, I start thinking that going hungry might not be that bad after all. (4.2)

Sure Turtle seems positive here, but she also makes plain that she was expecting more for breakfast. It's one thing to say you've had it better than most; it's quite another not to act like that when the wind changes.

"You did that on purpose," I say. "Why? I'm your granddaughter!" Her mouth twitches as if this amuses her. (11.38)

After her grandma spills the food, Turtle gets annoyed. Why would someone do that on purpose? Here she was imagining her grandma getting to know her, but instead she gets a bitter woman without gratitude. Talk about disappointment.

"What are we gonna do, Smokey?" I say, rubbing her belly as she stretches on the bed. We've never been apart. Having to give her up is almost worse than being sent away from Mama. (12.32)

Turtle is more than a little depressed when she has to give her beloved cat away, especially because she doesn't believe Smokey actually did anything wrong. (Spoiler: She's right.) She's even more disappointed in the fact that her aunt doesn't believe her about the cat, though. It's tough not being heard.

By late afternoon, we're hot, dirty, and exhausted. We've dug a dozen holes all over the key, and all we've found is a whole lot of nothing. It's like looking for hair on Mr. Edgit's head. (14.33)

After not finding the treasure yet on the island, the gang wants to give up; they don't have much hope, and it seems like this whole journey has been a big waste of time. Turtle thinks about how pointless it is to look for the treasure because she knows she'll let herself down. Too bad she's wrong.

Strange as it sounds, I'm having a hard time getting used to wearing them. They're pretty as a postcard, but they pinch my toes and my feet are hot and sweaty. (17.56)

Once she finally gets to buy herself a pair of fancy shoes, she doesn't even like them. What gives? Turtle's been wanting shoes for so long she forgets what they're actually like. She's not impressed when she realizes how impractical and unnecessary they really are in Key West—it's no wonder no one wears them there.

I cry for everything—for poor Smokey getting burned up by those boys, for every mean word some kid said to me, for all the times one of Mama's fellas raised our hopes and dashed them. Most of all, I cry for my poor dumb heart for secretly believing that Mama and Archie and me could be a real family. (18.77)

Our heart breaks for Turtle here, when Archie runs off with her cash and all her hopes and dreams. She beats herself up about it because she thinks she should have known better. Is she right, or is she just being too hard on herself? Over to you, Shmoopers.

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