Meet Mo LoBeau, eleven-year-old spitfire from the town of Tupelo Landing, NC and her best friend, Dale Earnhart Johnson III. (The three is for the immortal legend’s race car number, of course.) Yup, you’ve just landed in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business–which is a good thing, according to Miss Lana, because everyone pitches in, and a bad thing, according to the Colonel, because everyone pitches in. It’s a right neighborly place where everyone eats at Mo’s family’s cafe, but nobody in town is prepared for the trouble that’s coming. Trust Mo to wind up right in the middle of it.
Actually, trouble started eleven years ago, during the hurricane that caused the Colonel to crash into a tree right near the flooded creek where a baby girl washed into town. Ever since, Mo had been trying to locate her Upstream Mother, though Miss Lana made a right fine substitute. But that hubbub died down long ago. Now trouble has rolled into town again, this time driving a blue Impala and investigating a murder. A murder that has implicated Dale and brought danger to Mo and her unique family.
This cover doesn’t do much for me, but I’ve read few books written in such a powerful voice. Ms. Turnage treats us to a wonderfully developed setting, and her characters take on a life of their own. The narration is downright entertaining. Here’s some examples:
“You stole Mr. Jesse’s boat?” He studied his fingernails. “I wouldn’t say stole,” he said. “But I did borrow it pretty strong.”
“Dale gets his green thumb from Ms. Rose. I am practically herbicidal. I’ve killed every plant I ever met, starting with my lima bean sprout in kindergarten.”
“My voice sounded like a turkey gobble stuffed in a corset, but nobody’s told me to stop singing, and I ain’t shy.”
“He radioed in while I was flattening Deputy Marla’s tires.” “You flattened her tires?” She flipped to Mother Mode just like that, like a werewolf growing hair beneath a full moon. “Maybe,” I said. “Let me try to remember.” I studied her a moment. “Just out of curiosity, how would you feel about flattened tires, if it was true?”
“I don’t need a ride…It’s because Anna Celeste is my Sworn Enemy for Life and I’d rather go face-down in a plate of raw chicken entrails than go to her party.”
The plot is tied up nice and tight, too. It kept me guessing at just who the bad guy really was, and there are lots of folks to choose from. The book contains two, I think, minor profanities, but the rest is clean and appropriate for the middle grade crowd. These days that seems to be the best we can get. Three Times Lucky, I know, has been nominated for a Cybils award and I think it’s chances are about as favorable as having turkey on Thanksgiving.