Review of Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage

Three Times Lucky

by Sheila Turnage

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012. 312 pages.
Starred Review
2013 Newbery Honor Book

I didn’t read Three Times Lucky until 2013 had started, so it didn’t have a chance to be on my 2012 Sonderbooks Stand-outs. I did read it in time for our library’s first Mock Newbery voting, and Three Times Lucky was our winner. It hadn’t gotten a lot of attention on the Heavy Medal blog, so I was thinking of it as kind of a longshot and was very happy when it achieved Newbery Honor.

Three Times Lucky has so much to like about it: Quirky characters in a Southern small town. A girl without parents who doesn’t know who they are (she was found in a hurricane). Good friends who get into scrapes and adventures. A hurricane and deadly peril. And, oh yes, a murder mystery. With meddlesome kids.

The first paragraph gives you the flavor of the 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.

Mo LoBeau was named Moses because she was “taken out of the water.” She and her best friend Dale are opening the town cafe while Miss Lana is gone, but they aren’t allowed to use the stove, “which the Colonel says could be dangerous for someone of my height and temperament.” I like the paragraph where she lists off the day’s specials:

I stood up straight, the way Miss Lana taught me and draped a paper napkin over my arm. “This morning we’re offering a full line of peanut butter entrees,” I said. “We got peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and raisins, and a delicate peanut butter/peanut butter combination. These come crunchy or smooth, on Wonder Bread, hand-squished flat on the plate or not, as you prefer. The special today is our famous peanut butter and banana sandwich. It comes on Wonder Bread, cut diagonal on the plate, with crust or without. What can I start you with?”

Yes, there are some coincidences. A few details of the plot are maybe a tiny bit of a stretch. But most of all, the book is fun reading. The townsfolk of Tupelo Landing, with all their quirks, come to life and seem real. And besides having a mystery to solve, there are budding romances, Dale’s brother in a big race, and Mo’s sending bottles upriver hoping to find her mother.

This book is a heap of fun, and I’m so glad it’s joining the Newbery canon.

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