Monday, July 8, 2013

Three Times Lucky by Shelia Turnage

Maybe it’s because we waited SO LONG for summer in Minnesota this year, but lately I’ve been craving books that remind me of swimming pools, popsicles, tree houses, sidewalk chalk, and other childhood summer staples. Three Times Lucky turned out to fit in perfectly, because this is a book that made me feel like a kid again.

Three Times Lucky
Shelia Turnage
Middle Grade
Dial Books for Young Readers, May 10, 2012
256 pages (hardcover)

 “Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone's business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she's been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her "upstream mother," she's found a home with the Colonel--a café owner with a forgotten past of his own--and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.”

Mo LoBeau is a charming narrator. She’s a kind, confident kid with undeniable spunk, and her voice carries humor throughout. Her asides are loveable and quirky. (At one point she observes, “Dale started swearing last year. I haven’t started yet, but the ways things are going, I could at any moment” (2).) She’s also determined to the point of recklessness, driven by fierce loyalty and love.  She tries to hide her vulnerability, but the reader still glimpses it at times.

There’s a lot going on in Mo’s world. Her guardians are unpredictable, occasionally vanishing for days at a time (though not at the same time). Her best friend has an abusive, alcoholic father, and his brother is an amateur Nascar racer. A snotty girl at school is her sworn enemy. Mo also waitresses at The Café, where she has to stand on a milk crate to be heard.  Plus, there’s the unsolved mystery of her Upstream Mother, and the bottles Mo sends down the river to find her. Then, amid all of this, a café regular is murdered. The cops suspect both Dale and the Colonel, throwing Mo’s already busy life into disarray. As she works to solve the crime and save the people she loves, she also moves closer to an important truth about her own life.

There are a number of little side plots that don’t seem to get quite enough attention. However, in a way I enjoyed these mini-plots, because they made Mo’s world more than a plot device; it’s her home, really and truly, and it carries all the complexity that entails. Part of what makes this work is the great cast of supporting characters. They’re all a bit quirky, just like Mo. I particularly liked Miss Rose, who reminded me a little of Melanie Wilkes.

I can only come up with one slight negative: The story takes place sometime this century, as evidenced by a few mentions of cell phones, but Tupelo Landing is extremely low-tech. Now, I’m a city girl, and maybe the setting is realistic for a tiny North Carolina town in the middle of nowhere. That said, I kept thinking the book took place in an earlier decade, and then remembering later that it’s supposed to be present day. This wasn’t really a problem, I just found it distracting.

The last word: Three Times Lucky is funny, charming, a great mystery, and, at its heart, a wonderful story about what it means to be a family.

Grade: A-

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