Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

By Ekta R. Garg

June 25, 2014

Rated: Bookmark it!

When a young girl finds herself in a position to help her community solve a murder, she doesn’t let her age or lack of resources stop her. Instead, she decides to launch her own detective agency. With the help of her best friend, she knows she’ll get to the bottom of the case before the assigned detective—that is, if no one else goes missing first. Sheila Turnage gives readers a wonderful protagonist in the delightful Newberry Honor winner Three Times Lucky.

Moses “Mo” LoBeau can’t wait for summer vacation to begin. She and her best friend, Dale, will get to spend time fishing and escaping the drudgery of school. On the Wednesday morning after school gets out, though, Mo’s plans get upended when she has to wake up early to open the family café.

The term “family” doesn’t come easily to Mo. Her mother abandoned her when she was a baby, and the Colonel and Ms. Lana took her in. Since then Mo has spent her entire life of 11 years wondering about her mother and writing her letters in a diary. One day, Mo knows, she’ll meet her mother in person and present her with the letters.

In the meantime on that Wednesday a detective stops in the café in Mo’s hometown of Tupelo Landing (population: 148) and starts asking questions. A murder in his town of Winston-Salem has led him to Tupelo Landing, and the members of the community (almost all who are regulars in the café) eye him warily. They may have their differences, they agree, but no one in the town is capable of murder.

Things begin to take a mysterious turn, however, and when someone close to Mo goes missing she knows she has to do something. She and Dale launch their own detective agency to figure out the identity of the culprit. Despite the fact that the Winston-Salem detective keeps “botching” their investigation, Mo knows she can’t give up. Doing so might mean losing the only sense of security she’s known her whole life.

Author Sheila Turnage wrote this book as a middle grade novel, but it will certainly appeal to any age group. She provides in Mo a protagonist somewhat reminiscent of a certain Anne Shirley: irrepressible, brave, imaginative, and possessing a flair for drama. Mo never backs down from a problem; instead, she looks at it with an attitude of “how” instead of “why.” Young girls will like Mo’s forthright approach and would do well to emulate it.

While Turnage set the novel in present day Tupelo Landing she doesn’t have to deal with the trappings of modern technology, which is refreshing. Despite the digital revolution, small communities like this one exist all across the country that remain mostly untouched by the fussiness that technology can often create in life. In Tupelo Landing neighbors still look out for one another’s kids and don’t bother with cell phones, since the signal doesn’t make it to their town anyway. And with murders and missing people, who needs the internet for entertainment?

Turnage infuses her lyrical prose with sentences and phrases that depict the scene for readers with bulls-eye accuracy. In describing a community gathering, she writes:

“People streamed toward the glistening white church in busy, crooked lines, like ants heading for a sugar cube. The church’s windows arched like praying hands, and a graveyard meandered to the creek.”

Sentences like these and others will delight readers and show the middle grade set that language can inform, entertain, and perform flourishes all in the same group of words. While the mystery may come to its end in a slightly messy way, readers won’t mind. They’ll enjoy the words and Mo, Dale, and the other characters too much to notice.

I highly recommend Three Times Lucky for anyone who enjoys a book that is written well and essays characters who you’ll want to meet again and again.

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