Author(s): Sheila Turnage
Publisher: Dial Books
Release Date: 05/10/2012
Reading Level: 10-17
Other Choices: Because of Winn-Dixie, The Higher Power of Lucky, Moon Over Manifest, Savvy
Synopsis: Funny mystery with spunky girl touches on serious themes.
Common Sense Rates It:
Parents need to know
Parents need to know that in Three Times Lucky, a 2013 Newbery Honor Book, tween narrator Mo, was found floating down the river when she was a baby, and although she has loving adoptive parents whom she loves deeply, she spends much of her time wondering who her birth mother is. Mo and her best friend, Dale, get deeply embroiled in a murder mystery, disobeying parents and putting themselves in danger when they try to help solve it. Dale's father is an alcoholic who's abusive to his wife and children, and in one scene, he's drunk and hits his wife and threatens Dale and Mo, pushing Dale to threaten his father with a shotgun.
- Families can talk about how Mo's family situation could be viewed both as unusual or perfectly normal. In what ways does your family fit the classic idea of family? In what ways is it different?
- There's no cell phone service and barely any Internet in Tupelo Landing, yet Mo and Dale find lots of ways to keep themselves busy. What would you do if you were stuck in a small town for the summer with no media?
- Have you ever learned something valuable from someone you didn't like, the way Miss Lana learned from Mr. Jesse, even though no one liked him much?
What's the story?
Rising sixth grader Mo LoBeau longs to know who her birth mother is, and she occasionally wishes she had a "normal" family. But she deeply loves the Colonel, who rescued her from a hurricane when she was a baby, and the glamorous Miss Lana, who took both the Colonel and Mo in. When Detective Starr rolls into town and announces to the small town of Tupelo Landing that he's solving a murder mystery, Mo joins in and starts her own detective agency. The mission becomes personal when another murder happens right in town, and both the Colonel and Miss Lana go missing. As Mo desperately searches for clues to find her adoptive parents, she starts to rethink her definition of family.
Is it any good?
Mo's conversational voice will draw readers right in to THREE TIMES LUCKY, and her distinctive worldview will keep them reading. Mo's language is filled with colorful, over-the-top similes that infuse a casual humor into her observations (a woman wheezes "like an out-of-sorts accordion," and Miss Lana "sleeps like a sack of cement"), but Mo is also sensitive to the serious issues that the people she loves face.Though initially the story seems more a portrait of a quirky small town and its (mostly) lovable, eccentric residents, midway through the book, the plot picks up as everything starts to tie together, and Three Times Lucky becomes a page-turner that's difficult to put down.
The Good Stuff
Messages: The people of Tupelo Landing know one another as well as family and, like family, they don't always get along. But when someone is in trouble, as when Mo's adoptive parents go missing, they all pull together to offer help and support. And when something good happens, they all come together to celebrate. The overriding message is that family is less about blood relations and more about who will love and stand by you no matter what.
Educational Value: Even though Mo and other characters frequently use bad grammar and the word "ain't," she has respect for the written word, as she writes in a journal to help her resolve her feelings for her long-lost mother. Kid readers are also exposed to adoption-related issues, such as wondering about who your birth mother is.
Role Models: Above all, Three Times Lucky's Mo is loyal to the people she loves, and she'll do anything to help them, whether it means helping her crush raise money to fix his car so he can race it or protecting her best friend Dale by standing up to his abusive father. Mo and Dale also observe other people in the town being polite and courteous and strive to follow their example, while Mo's adoptive father teaches Mo the importance of being in nature. Mo is a smart, observant girl, and she and Dale follow clues to help the police figure out a murder mystery.
What to watch out for
Violence Three Times Lucky starts out with a police detective coming to Tupelo Landing to solve a murder; while he's there, another murder occurs, and past murders are uncovered, but they all happen off the page. Mo's best friend, Dale, has an abusive father whose meanness is hinted at throughout the book and culminates in a scene in which he hits his wife and verbally abuses Dale (calling him a coward), pushing Dale to threaten his father with a shotgun. Mo's adoptive parents are both kidnapped, but the wrongdoers are all suitably punished.
Sex: Not an issue
Language: Mo's friend Dale "started swearing last year," and Mo thinks she might start soon, but no real swear words are mentioned, although a restaurant patron refers to a thief as a "jackass." One of the town girls calls Mo a "throw-away kid" because Mo doesn't know who her birth mother is, and this hurts Mo deeply. Dale's abusive father insults him by calling him a coward.
Consumerism: Several food-related brand names are mentioned, including Wonder Bread, Mountain Dew, and Piggly Wiggly markets, but they're more to give the reader a feeling for the small-town North Carolina setting than to sell products.
Drinking, drugs & smoking: Dale's father drinks heavily, which drives him to abusive behavior. His drunkenness is mostly referred to rather than shown, but there's one scene in which he shows up drunk and hits Dale's mother.