Study Guide

Turtle in Paradise Happiness

By Jennifer L. Holm

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Mama says she's lucky to have a job with Mrs. Budnick considering how tough times are. I don't know how lucky I am, though. (1.47)

Turtle might repeat what her mom has told her, but that doesn't mean she believes it. Sure her mom thinks they should be happy, but that doesn't automatically put smiles on their faces.

Mama's the worst. She's always going on about how Key West is paradise—it's beautiful, the weather's perfect, there's fruit dripping from trees. To hear her talk, you'd think the roads are paved with chocolate. (2.3)

Maybe Mama is the worst because she remembers life in Key West as happier than her life now. Turtle might not realize it, but her mom thinks about that time in her life very fondly, and that clouds how she describes the area to her daughter.

I bet she doesn't have to worry about being sent to a house that's tiny and dark and smells like sour milk. Daddy Warbucks probably has a nice big plump sofa for her to sit on, and a Persian rug for her to sink her toes into. Not a wicker couch that's got a broken leg propped up with a bunch of rags and a worn braided wool rug that looks like something bad got spilled on it. (3.2)

Comparing herself to Annie, Turtle comes to the conclusion that her life at Aunt Minnie's is not as good as the famous red haired singer's. We can't help but wonder whether she's just feeling sorry for herself, though. Is an orphan's life really so much happier than Aunt Minnie's?

"Oh, Beans," the woman says. "I don't think I've ever been so happy to see someone!" (4.28)

This is how moms generally respond to Beans when the Diaper Gang shows up to take care of their babies. Can you blame them? They take a screaming infant away for a while and cure their diaper rash while they're at it. To these moms, happiness is a happy, healthy baby.

As I walk to the docks through the gray early-morning light, I feel just like Terry Lee heading off with Pat on an adventure to the Far East. Except, of course, I'm going to be looking for sponges, not a gold mine. But I don't care; I'm excited. (7.1)

Turtle's excited for her adventure with Slow Poke, especially since it makes Beans jealous. Perhaps for the first time since getting to Key West, she's happy about what she's doing, and really excited for something.

"What about you, Turtle?" Ira asks. "What are you gonna buy?"

I don't even have to think it over. "New shoes," I say.

"Shoes?" Ira laughs. "Nobody wears shoes around here." (15.28-30)

As the Diaper Gang finds find the treasure, they ask each other what they'll buy with their newfound cash. Top of the list? A new wagon and ice cream for the boys, and shoes for Turtle. It's telling that they don't want fancy stuff to make them happy, just regular old things like the stuff they already have.

Something washes over me and this time it's not water: it's fear. What good is all this gold if we're dead? What if I never see Mama again? She doesn't even know I'm stranded on a key with a bunch of dumb boys. (16.92)

Money doesn't buy happiness. Too bad Turtle doesn't realize this before she finds the treasure, though. She's finally got the golden ticket and starts to worry it doesn't mean anything if no one finds them on the island. Happiness can quickly fade, it seems.

She's smiling so wide she's practically glowing. "Oh, Mama!" I say, and I feel her happiness like my own. It's as if a weight has lifted off my heart, and for the first time in my life I can breathe. (17.81)

Her mom and Archie got married and Turtle is over the moon for her mom. After all, she can practically feel her mom's happiness. It's a sweet scene between mom and daughter, because they are not usually happy together.

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)

Turtle has dreamed of this perfect ending for as long as she can remember, even if she won't let herself admit it. Still, if you compare this passage to the last one where she shares her mom's happiness, we can't help but notice how little she actually describes her feelings here. Instead, she simply tells us how perfect it is.

I sit on the porch with Beans, Kermit, Buddy, and Ira. Mama's in the kitchen with Aunt Minnie and Uncle Vernon. Her happy laugh floats out the open window. (18.37)

At home, Turtle hears her mom's happiness through the window, as though she's carefree and relaxed for the first time. Here's the thing: This happiness fades as soon as Archie is gone, so we're not sure it was really there in the first place.

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