Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Belated Summer Reading

I have just finished Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage, a middle-grade novel that received a 2013 Newbery Honor from the American Library Association. It came from friend and fellow obsessive reader Emily L., to whom I'd like to say "Thank you!" in a heartfelt way.

Three Times Lucky initially looked like typical summer-reading fare: set in a small Southern town (Tupelo Landing, North Carolina), kids reveling in the first freedoms of summertime, seeing teachers outside of school and totally freaking out about it, all ensconced within a murder-mystery! In some ways it is typical, but it pleasantly thwarts other expectations. "Miss Moses LoBeau, rising sixth grader" is a girl with a mysterious past and a quest to unravel it. She arrived in a hurricane, an infant riding out the storm on a billboard, found by the Colonel (no, not that one, Looking for Alaska fans) whose amnesia compounds Mo's own mystery. These two orphans of the storm find refuge in each other, and in the kindness of Miss Lana, another newcomer to town. Mo's quest is for her "Upstream Mother," the woman who released her into the storm. The Colonel, surprisingly, seeks not his past, but a present for his patchwork family.

These three misfits find a place in Tupelo Landing running a cafĂ© which becomes the town's social center, so when, eleven years later, a cranky  old regular turns up murdered, they join forces with other townsfolk and visiting detectives to solve the mystery, and, perhaps, prevent another murder.

Turnage does well at setting the scene--she has the hot, sticky ambiance of a Southern summer down pat, and the cadence of the rural South (even if the colloquialisms are a teensy bit overused). She effectively directs and misdirects the reader (and her characters) toward the killer and the reason for the murder. Not surprisingly, the murder is solved, as is one of the mysteries of the characters, but, more surprisingly, the other isn't. As is typical of contemporary children's literature, the book offers strong affirmation of family: families that are built by choice, community, and love, as well as families created by blood. She affirms the value of friendship across lines of gender and age, and reminds readers that sometimes rising sixth-grade is the perfect place to be.

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