Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review - "Three Times Lucky"

I’m not really one for mysteries (at least adult mysteries), but every once and a while, one comes along that captures my attention and keeps me reading to the last page. A good page-turner must have compelling characters, believable set-ups and something palpable at stake. Luckily for me, and everyone for that matter, first time middle grader Sheila Turnage delivers all this in spades in Newbery Honor winner Three Times Lucky.

Moses “Mo” LoBeau is pretty lucky, as far as things go. As a baby, she washed ashore in the little North Carolina town of Tupelo Landing, and was lucky to be found by the Colonel, a man with his own mysterious past, who took her in and raised her as his own. Now a “rising sixth grader”, Mo works part time in the town’s café, hangs around with her best friend Dale, and sends messages in a bottle to her “upstream mother”. But when the murder of a local man upsets the equilibrium of Mo’s life and puts Dale in the hot seat, Mo sets her sights on being a detective, determined to clear Dale’s name and solve the mystery. Along the way she’ll face danger, make alliances, and find out the truth that things (and people) are not always what they seem.

The subject matter of Three Times Lucky is awfully heavy, what with murder, abandoned infants, amnesia and a child accused of a heinous crime, but the remarkable thing about Turnage’s writing is that everything comes across so effortlessly. The language is light and accessible, the characters are true to life and very easy to imagine and, seen through Mo’s eyes, even the weightiest of occurrences can be broken down and approached in Mo’s no-nonsense manner. Though she frets, Mo never seems to lose control, and I loved that about her. The stakes are high for Mo and Dale. Dale’s innocence is questioned, and Mo stands to lose her whole family when things take a turn for the worse. Turnage succeeds wonderfully at ratcheting up the tension to a frenzied peak before the inevitable reveals and conclusion. We don’t get everything we want. Not every mystery is solved (but at the same time, Turnage caps the action perfectly, so that we’re not left with any dangling storylines). I would love if Turnage returns to Tupelo Landing at some time in the future, but for now I’m intensely happy with her first offering, a top-notch pick for mystery lovers, lovers of realistic fiction and fans of enterprising young people the world over.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
2012, Dial
Library copy

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