Paula Danziger

It’s an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World

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It’s an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World Summary

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A sequel to The Divorce Express (1982), It’s an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World (1985) is a realistic novel for young adults by American writer Paula Danziger. Best friends Rosie and Phoebe both come from split families. When Rosie’s mom, Mindy, falls in love with Phoebe’s dad, Jim, they all move in together. Rosie believes she finally has a perfect family, but when problems arise, Rosie learns that living happily ever after takes some work. Danziger explores the complex dynamics of a blended family, the impact of divorce on teenagers, and issues of evolving friendships, prejudice, and first love. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books calls It’s an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World, “An honest approach to problems [with] a lively and natural writing style and strong, consistent characterizations.”

Fourteen-year-old Rosie Wilson is the first-person narrator of the story. Rosie explains that she wants more than anything to “be a part of a family, all living happily under one roof.” Rosie’s parents divorced shortly after she was born, and Rosie lives with Mindy in Woodstock, New York. Rosie is biracial: Mindy is white, and Rosie’s dad is black. Now, with Mindy living with a white man, and Rosie’s dad remarried to a black woman, Rosie feels she doesn’t quite fit in either family. She worries because she doesn’t have her own Prince Charming, wondering if it is because she is “part white,” or “part black,” or “part ugly.” Rosie spends most of free her time babysitting, and enjoys caring for three-year-old Donny Donner, whom she calls “Little Nerdlet.”

Rosie is a neat freak, a morning person, a folk-music fan, and a reader. She cherishes the books by Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Countee Cullen that her grandmother gave her as a reminder of her black heritage. Phoebe has been Rosie’s best friend for the last year, when they met riding the bus they called the Divorce Express between their Woodstock and New York City parents. Phoebe is messy, a night person, loves shopping, and has a boyfriend named Dave. Rosie is excited to have a ready-made family. She wants the story to begin at the ending, with everyone living happily ever after but admits that she worries it won’t work out. Rosie’s dad always says the world is dog-eat-dog, but after the Little Nerdlet’s dog, Aardvark, eats his tiny pet turtle, Rosie thinks her world is an Aardvark-eat-turtle world.

Mindy works as a waitress while she tries to get her children’s book published, and Jim is an artist, trying to make money from his paintings. Mindy, Jim, Rosie, and Phoebe move in together and immediately experience growing pains. The house is smaller than Jim and Phoebe are used to and has only one bathroom. Rosie and Phoebe must share a bedroom, and their differences are quickly apparent.

Phoebe gets angry when Mindy asks her not to park in front of the house, making out with Dave. Phoebe argues that Mindy isn’t her mother and can’t tell her what to do. Phoebe stops talking to Mindy and Jim. Phoebe gets angry with Rosie, thinking she is siding with her mother, and the disagreement turns into an “all-out war” with everyone icily ignoring each other. Rosie knows someone has to give, but she is tired of being the one who has to cope with everything. The family has a conference, and Phoebe declares that she is the one who always has to make adjustments and that she and Jim got along just fine before Mindy came along. Jim accuses Phoebe of trying to run the family. Phoebe promises to try to make things work.

Phoebe’s mother and her new stepfather, Duane, invite Phoebe and Rosie to Canada to visit Duane’s younger brother and his family. Rosie is excited—it is her first trip out of the country. Rosie meets Duane’s brother, Michael, his wife Bev, and their teenage kids, Jason and Aviva. Jason is a guitar player and a singer, and Aviva is a drummer. Phoebe flirts with Jason, but Jason falls for Rosie. Watching stern Duane argue with Michael, Rosie realizes that every family has problems. Rosie is thrilled with Jason’s attention, but Phoebe is put out: she wants Rosie to spend time with her. Rosie is both angry with and worried about Phoebe, who she feels is making her choose between her mother and Phoebe, and now Jason and Phoebe. While on a date with Jason, a man calls Rosie a racial slur. It is the first time she has experienced prejudice. Jason helps restore Rosie’s confidence and Rosie knows she has found her Prince Charming. Before returning to the US, Phoebe’s mother drops a bombshell: she announces that Phoebe has decided to come to live with her in NYC.

Rosie is furious and hurt that Phoebe is “deserting” their new family. A month after Phoebe leaves, Jim is still a mess, and Mindy is upset. Phoebe has not written or called Rosie. Mindy sells her first book. At a celebratory lunch, she tells Rosie that Jim thinks they are only “sort of” a family because he misses Phoebe. Rosie is upset, but Mindy explains that “nobody has a perfect relationship,” but she and Jim are both working hard at it. From her past marriage, Mindy learned not to have unrealistic expectations.

While visiting Dave in Woodstock, Phoebe seeks out Rosie. She says that she wants to come back to their family. In New York City, Duane doesn’t really like her, and her mom works a lot. Phoebe admits that she has always felt left out and promises to be nicer. Mindy and Jim agree to let Phoebe return if she is willing to make changes and receive counseling. Rosie realizes that the world is not so cutthroat, but with hard work, “It’s a world where families and friendships change and grow.”