Published in 2010, Jennifer Holm’s Turtle in Paradise tells the story of an 11 year-old girl (aptly named Turtle for her hard, emotional shell) left with her aunt in Key West, Florida during the Great Depression of the 1930s. With Turtle’s mother working in a far-off town, the young girl must navigate this new environment and community, finding a place in this world forced upon her.
The novel was a success upon its release, finding strong sales and winning the coveted Newberry Honor Book award. It’s easy to understand why, as the book perfectly captures the wonder and fear connected to moving into an unfamiliar environment, at an age where you are only somewhat capable of grasping the human suffering the adults in one’s orbit may be amassing. It feels completely appropriate that Turtle can go out hunting for treasure with the ragtag Diaper Gang, exploring a picturesque Florida, while also alluding to the class challenges her family faces during the economic downturn. It’s a wonderful piece of historical fiction for young people and adults alike, and it’s been given new life with this graphic adaptation.
Savanna Ganucheau expressively captures the source material with her restrained but communicative line work. For a new artist on the comic scene, her work demonstrates clarity and confidence with simplicity, giving each frame an unpretentious and animated quality. Much like the novel, which paints an idyllic vision of Key West in the 1930s with the dark reality of that world placed contemporaneously, Ganucheau’s visuals communicate warmth and wonder, capturing the rose-colored memory of childhood adventure. It’s a testament to a comic artist’s skill when the plot can be understood without any supporting exposition or dialogue, and Ganucheau does so naturally in adapting Holm’s work. The narrative is easy to follow, even for my 6 year-old who does not yet have the language skill to understand this book on her own. Having said that, she followed the key beats of the story, thanks to the efficient blocking and design. Lark Pien’s subdued colors, already a standout in some of Gene Luen Yang’s like-minded books, complements the story well, giving each page the pastoral gloss to the less than tranquil era. In fact, the quality of the art direction makes this my preferred version of Turtle’s adventures in Key West.
Having read both the novel years ago, it’s wonderful that the comic adaptation of Turtle in Paradise stands as a work of its own, capturing the character components loved in the original novel, yet commendably giving this rendition its own visual personality. As we enter the summer, this graphic novel from Random House would be a fine supplement to any youth’s shelf, inspiring them to chart their own adventures, while reflecting on their place and role in the community they find themselves.
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