Book Review - Three Times Lucky

Author: Sheila Turnage
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin (May 10, 2012)
Read Aloud: Grades 4th to 8th
Independent Reading: Grades 5th to 8th
Source: Review Copy; Personal Copy
Fiction *

Description from Penguin:
A hilarious Southern debut with the kind of characters you meet once in a lifetime.

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.

Full of wisdom, humor, and grit, this timeless yarn will melt the heart of even the sternest Yankee.

My thoughts on this book:
"Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt.  Almost before the dust had settled, Mr. Jesse turned up dead and life in Tupelo Landing turned upside down." - Three Times Lucky, Sheila Turnage
Thus begins the opening paragraph of Turnage's debut middle grade novel set in the fictional town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina.  Are you hooked? I was.  

The story is told from the perspective of Miss Moses "Mo" LoBeau, rising sixth grader.  Mo is spunky and has a penchant for getting into her fair share of trouble along with her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III.  This middle grade mystery has several layers to uncover not just "who killed Mr. Jesse".   Readers soon discover that Mo has been trying to find her "upstream mother" for years.  She was rescued as an infant by the Colonel during a hurricane when he found her attached to a raft floating downstream.  Mo lives with the Colonel and Miss Lana who have been her guardians and the only parents she has known her whole life.  However, the Colonel and Miss Lana seem to have some secrets as well.  As Mo and Dale seek to discover who killed Mr. Jesse, where the Colonel has disappeared to, and more, pieces of everyone's stories are revealed.

Three Times Lucky hits all of the things that I like about a story.  Great characters that you find yourself wanting to know in real life, lots of things that make you laugh, just enough mystery and action to keep the story moving and some absolutely great one lines (and I am certain I didn't even pick the best ones).
"He's dead." he said promptly. Dale has a nose for the obvious.

"Dale can choose not to worry like he chooses not to wear socks. Miss Lana says I have more of a Jack Russell brain. I think things apart for sport.”

I shook my head. "Our drink du jour is Mountain Dew," I said. "I got a two-liter breathing in back."
For as many laughs in this book, there are also some serious issues such as Dale's father who drinks heavily and is physically abusive to his wife and son.  This does have a more hopeful resolution than I suspect is true for most cases of domestic abuse.

In looking at the comments/reviews of other individuals, I noticed that some had concerns with the portrayal of people from the south.  It might be easy to dismiss this story as just another one of those books that portray all Southerners as backwards, ignorant, and foolish. I am reminded of the TED talk The Danger of a Single Story,  Chimamanda Adichie warns "that if we hear only a single story about another person or a country, we risk a critical misunderstanding".  It is a powerful speech and one worth listening to.  Educators should take heed in that if the only books we shared with students were stories about poor, ignorant Southerners living in small towns, then we too would be "in danger of a single story".  However, there are Southerners (just like there are northerners) that live in small towns filled with eccentric, quirky characters.  Our responsibility as educators and reading leaders is to provide students with a rich variety that represents all types of people living in a specific region or during a designated time period.

Since I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Michal Freidman, I may have been struck more by the language Turnage uses to describe things.  There are tons of sayings and phrases that would keep a teacher of English Language Learners busy for weeks exploring what they all mean.  I quickly realized that if I (a Northern Yankee) tried to read this one aloud students would miss the cadence and rhythm of the story which is essential to understanding the setting and feel of the story, and to appreciating various aspects of the characters.  From this, I think I was struck by the importance of sharing a story like Mo LoBeau's with students.  

Though I admit that I truly enjoyed Three Times Lucky, I recognize that others may not have the same feelings.  I respect their choice to include or not include this in their classroom selections, but I do hope that they would give either the book or audiobook a chance before making that decision. 

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