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Sheila Turnage's Three Times Lucky - Marvelous Middle Grade Literature

by Sara Voigt (@meaningfulmadness)

Here at Unabridged, we haven't had too many book reviews on Upper Elementary/Middle Grade lit, so I wanted to take a minute to talk about one of my all time favorites. In fact, I loved this one so much, I bought a copy for each of the kids in my son's classroom when he was in 5th grade. (Don't worry--Scholastic ran a deal, and each copy was only $1. I love a bargain!)

One of my all time favorite middle grade novels is Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

This book follows a spunky protagonist, Mo Lobeau, and her sidekick Dale as they attempt to investigate a murder in their small southern town of Tupelo Landing. Mo is character reminiscent of Scout Finch and Ramona Quimby--all spunk, sass, and confidence. Along with Mo and Dale, there are a myriad of colorful characters who inhabit Tupelo Landing. The Colonel and Miss Lana are Mo's caregivers and stand-in parents after Mo is found as an infant floating in the water during a hurricane. Other characters include Lavender, Dale's older brother, and the object of Mo's affection and school girl crush; Mr. Jesse, the unfortunate murder victim in the story; Detective Joe Starr, the law enforcement officer sent to Tupelo Landing to solve the murder; plus many more. It is these characters who add flavor and heart to this middle-grade mystery selection. The novel has a homey, nostalgic feel to it that I just adore.

In addition to the main plot, there are several subplots intertwined within the story—Mo and the Colonel's mysterious backgrounds, Miss Lana's connection to the Colonel, and Dale's homelife with his alcoholic father.

The characters in this book sucked me right in and I instantly cared about them and their lives. Mo is such a precocious, whip-smart, and sassy protagonist--all readers are sure to love her. At times, her shenanigans and gumption are laugh out loud funny. You just can't help but root for her!

“For me, it was a Gold Star day. I'd identified an enemy, and I'd made a life decision: I might come home tore up from fighting or late from being punished, but I'd never come home crying. So far, I ain't.”

Action-packed and fast moving, the plot does not disappoint. I was as engrossed in this story and Mo and Dale's investigation into Mr. Jesse's murder as I would have been if I were reading a mystery written for adults. This speaks volumes for the way that Sheila Turnage has crafted this novel. The way the mystery evolves throughout the course of the book is interesting and compelling and will keep young readers engaged.

This brings me to the ending. I love the way Turnage chose to end this book. It is satisfying without being neat, and I love that in a middle grade read. Of course, I am not going to give any more information about the ending than that. No spoilers here!

The only possible issue I see with this novel with young readers is that there is a lot going on and a lot of characters introduced throughout the novel. There is a clear plot, but there are also several side plots that may distract younger readers. I think this novel would be a tremendous read aloud in a classroom or with the young people in your life. It offers an opportunity for rich discussion and extension. I highly recommend this one!

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