If you like Jennifer L. Holm’s Newbery honor book Turtle in Paradise and want to know more about the inhabitants of Key West (especially the Diaper Gang), Full of Beans is the book for you! Written from the perspective of Turtle’s cousin Beans Curry, this little novel is just as brimful of life in Key West, Florida, during the Great Depression as Turtle in Paradise. Historically, this novel fleshes out the revitalization of Key West by a team of “New Dealers,” and there are cameo appearances by a couple of famous authors and a famous actress. (I’ll let you, my intrepid bibliophile readers, guess who ONE of the famous authors must be. 😉 ) The kid-appeal part of the story, as well as the main complication, involves Beans and his attempt to earn money for his family. He finally goes to work for Johnny Cakes, a Key West bootlegger–a pretty sweet job, but for one thing: this job lands him in a real moral dilemma when the repercussions of it are life-changing for his best friend, Pork Chop, and his family. In addition to this weighty moral dilemma, scrapes and hijinks abound as the Beans and Co. compete to remain the marbles champs of Key West, earn enough money to see Shirley Temple and Baby LeRoy on the big screen, and mostly stay out of trouble.
I enjoyed this novel a lot–the setting and Beans’ voice are very authentic. The only fault in the story I can find is that the pacing is a little off; I felt jarred a bit when Beans’ brother, Kermit, grows ill and recovers within the space of a few pages, while the story up until that point had taken chapters for relatively little plot movement. The name dropping at the end of the story (the aforementioned famous people) feels a little forced, though maybe it wouldn’t feel that way by the book’s intended audience. I do appreciate the backmatter that provides actual pictures and more details about Key West during the Great Depression. The story ends with the arrival of Turtle in Key West, and even though she isn’t identified by name, I was gratified to recognize her and her “mangy cat.” Full of Beans is a prequel, then, to Turtle in Paradise. This is no way means that one must read them in that order, however; obviously, everyone who has already enjoyed Turtle in Paradise did so first since it was written years before Full of Beans. Read them in whichever order you can get your hands on them. My ten-year-old Louise declared Jennifer L. Holm to be one of her favorite authors after reading this novel, and I’m inclined to agree: she consistently delivers likable characters and interesting stories. (Random House, 2016)