Study Guide

Turtle in Paradise Family

By Jennifer L. Holm

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Folks have always told me that I look like Mama. My hair's brown, same as hers, but it's cut short in a bob with bangs, like a soup bowl turned upside down. (2.37)

It seems like all Turtle ever hears is that she looks like her mom. This makes her think about her mom and the history she has with these people even when she's far away. There's a strong family resemblance, that's for sure, but their personalities couldn't be more different.

Folks like to feel sorry for orphans, but I think they've got it pretty good. Little Orphan Annie gets adopted by Daddy Warbucks, who's a millionaire. That's just about as lucky as it gets in my book. (3.1)

We'll admit we're a little surprised to hear this. Do orphans have it easy? It's not that Turtle doesn't like her mom or anything; she's just not sold on having a big family. Okay, we can understand that. But does she change her mind in the end?

Still, I miss Mama so much I hardly know what to do. We've never been apart. I worry about her being by herself. (6.21)

How sweet. No matter how different Turtle and her mom are, she misses her mama a lot. A whole lot. It's clear that Turtle might like to think she knows best, but she still needs her mom around every once in a while.

Maybe it's because it's only ever been Mama and me, but I don't understand what's so wonderful about having a big family. Someone's always fighting, or not talking to someone else, or scrounging around trying to borrow money. Far as I can tell, relations are nothing but trouble. (8.1)

Not everyone is a fan of big families, but for Turtle, it's more about how much her cousins annoy her at this point. Sometimes she wishes there was some peace and quiet in her life, just like when she lived with Mama.

"I can't believe I have a grandmother," I say. "Believe it," Pork Chop says. (8.99)

Turtle's shocked when she learns Nana Philly isn't someone's grandma, but her grandma. She's grown up thinking her grandma is dead, yet here she is in the flesh. The only problem is, her grandma isn't exactly warm and fuzzy.

Even though Mama's fellas were always buying me treats—candy, hair ribbons—the shoes felt different. They were so ordinary, like something that, well, a father would buy. Walking down the street in those new shoes with Archie and Mama, it almost felt like we were a real family. (12.5)

Mama thinks Archie is different, but Turtle's not convinced until he acts like a father toward her. She might act like she's got a tough shell, but she really wants a family and a home more than anything else in the world.

It's like the happy ending of a Hollywood picture: Archie and Mama and me strolling arm in arm along Duval Street, a perfect family. (17.117)

Is there such a thing as a perfect family? In our experience, when something looks perfect from the outside, sometimes it's not on the inside. Besides, even Turtle admits there are no happy endings in life, so maybe she's just fooling herself because she wants a family so badly.

Tears start falling from my grandmother's eyes, and then Mama starts crying, too. The next thing I know, Mama's on her knees in front of Nana Philly and they're hugging each other like nothing ever happened. (18.35)

When Turtle's mom and grandma burry the hatchet, she thinks about it playing out on the big screen. Maybe that's her way of understanding things, or maybe it's because this scene is so sentimental and meaningful that it would go perfectly in a movie. That's the real meaning of family to her.

I know that my father doesn't have three eyes and isn't a murderer , unless you count sponges. He's kind. And he likes the funny pages. Just like his daughter. (18.16)

When she finds out who her dad is, Turtle thinks about what they have in common. It's only natural to find a connection—yet she doesn't say anything to her mom about it or tell anyone that she's figured it out. Why do you think that is?

"They belong to the family," my aunt says in a gruff voice. "So you're going to have to stay here if you want to play with them. Your mother, too." (18.88)

Turtle's aunt says this about the paper dolls that she took back from Turtle. Suddenly, it's not important who they belong to, but that Turtle feels like she has somewhere to belong. In the end, Aunt Minnie is more of a family member to her than either of her parents.

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