Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Mystery of Tupelo Landing: Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage


Dear Upstream Mother,

Miss Retzyl claims my vast experience in discovering where you're not helps me zero in on you. But frankly my map can't hold many more pushpins. Neither can my heart.

Eleven years is a long time to search. Drop me a line or pick up the phone. I'm on the verge of puberty.


Mo (nee Moses) LoBeau's life itself is a missing person mystery.  Washed up on a fragment of a billboard in the flood following Hurricane Amy, she  was pulled from the waters by an amnesiac man who had just crashed into a tree (hereinafter the CrashTree) and who named himself The Colonel and her Moses. Since then Mo has lived with her adoptive parents, the Colonel and Miss Lana, who operate the Cafe, the center of life in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina. A rising sixth grader, Mo devotes her spare time to trying to locate her true mother, and when all the usual investigative methods come up empty, has fallen back upon writing letters to her "Upstream Mother," and launching them into Contentnea Creek inside empty ketchup and hot sauce bottles from the Cafe.

So far, Mo's investigations have turned up clueless, but then, out of the blue, Tupelo Landing has a new mystery. Community curmudgeon Mr. Jesse has turned up dead in the fishing boat that Mo's sidekick, Dale (full name Dale Earnhardt Johnson) has "borrowed" for their clandestine fishing trip, and when Mo's sworn enemy Attila (a.k.a. Anna Celeste) testifies that she saw him with a boat down by the creek, Dale becomes the prime suspect for Detective Joe Starr from Raleigh. Mo and Dale decide that his only hope is for them to find the real murderer first and so they launch The Desperado Detective Agency (Lost Pets Found Free).

But there's a tangled web of local secrets woven around Mr. Jesse's demise among the citizens of Tupelo Landing. As Mo puts it pungently,
"That's another thing about a small town: Everybody knows everybody's schedule.  We spin around each other like planets around an invisible sun.

However invisible, that central sun is the Cafe, and when the Colonel and Miss Lana go missing, Mo puts  all her hard-won waitressing skills of observation to work detecting the real prime suspect. Mo LoBeau speaks with the authentic voice of  Harper Lee's Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, or Kate DiCamillo's Opal from Because of Winn-Dixie, a memorable character whose common sense, humor, and straight-ahead loyalty make her the sort of character you love, one you'll hate to close the book on when one mystery is solved and the other--finding her mother--suddenly seems no longer a priority.

Sheila Turnage's Three Times Lucky (Dial Books, 2012) is a wonderful novel of life and love and  friendship, and being true to yourself and those around you that fully deserves its 2013 Newbery Honor Award. In its starred review, Kirkus Reviews emphatically says, "Turnage achieves a wickedly awesome tale of an 11-year-old girl with more spirit and gumption than folks twice her age. Mo LoBeau is destined to become a standout character in children's fiction. Readers may find they never want to leave Tupelo Landing." Readers could do a lot worse than spend some time sipping iced tea at the Tupelo Landing Cafe.

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