Thursday, May 10, 2012

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Sunrise was at 5:41, sunset will be at 8:32.

No hummingbirds, just angels.

Yesterday was just a beautiful day, even if most of it was spent looking at websites and computer screens.  My window faces the hummingbird feeder and the flashes of green as they come and go grabs my attention away from the mechanical world I'm firmly attached to.  I've noticed that when they (who knows, maybe it's only one.  I can't tell.) leave the feeder, they often head to the fountain where they bathe in the bubbler.

One day I noticed that it (they?) flew around the house on all of the trips to the feeder.  It came in from the north, headed out toward the south, and then came back up the sideyard to the feeder from the north, around and around and around, always in the same direction.  The next day, it came from all directions.  I found it interesting, watching it do things one way and then the other and wondered why.  Thanks to science (and NPR) I learned that birds fly into the wind to take off and to stay aloft.  When the air is quiet, birds don't need to worry about which way to fly.

You'd think that living in the flight path to and from SeaTac and with D's experience with Navy aircraft carriers, we'd have figured out why that bird was making loops around the house.  And now I will always know which direction the wind is coming from.  As long as the hummingbirds feed at this feeder.

I am so happy to have read Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage, a middle-grades book about an orphan girl who finds a family.  I like reading books that make me happy to have them in my life. 

Mo LoBeau was found floating on a piece of billboard in a flood after a hurricane.  The Colonel, the man who rescued her, has no memory prior to this moment and the two of them make a home with Miss Lana, working in a little cafe where the whole town of Tupelo Landing, NC, gathers for breakfast and other important events.  Mo is an especially practical and wise little girl.  Maybe having a found family with no attachments to each other but for chance gives her the space to think things through.

Mo's best friend is Dale Earnhardt III (his parents have naming disorders - his older brother's name is Lavender Shade) and the two of them are as close as close can be.  It's summer and it's time to do summery things like fish in the river, hang out with Lavender as he gets ready for the big car race, and make sure the biscuits are hot for breakfast at the Cafe.

Everything is going along just as it should when the town is thrown into a tizzy by murder and a lawman.

This is just a wonderful story.  Mo and Dale really are best friends, there's no romance between them (Mo is going to marry Lavender and she's not shy about sharing that titbit); they protect and love each other deeply and will do almost anything to help each other.  The Colonel and Miss Lana are devoted to one another and to Mo, everyone in town knows almost everything about everyone else, and the story is kept from being overly sweet by quarrels and mean girls and an awful non-secret about Dale's drunken sot of a father.

Three Times Lucky feels very much like a story out of the 40's south even though it takes place now.  I love how Ms. Turnage uses a location like Tupelo Landing to keep an old-fashioned feel about modern day problems. It's a small town with an aging populace, where spotty cell phone reception is a given, people will almost always know what you're up to (and often still love you for it), and gossip and news is exchanged at the cafe counter.  The days are kind of slow, there isn't a lot of mention of media or t.v., parents are busy or gone, and this allows the kids to run around the town all day investigating the murder and getting into all sorts of trouble.

One of the poignant bits, and maybe this could be a spoiler so... stop reading... is when Mo notices the "red smears" on Dale's body when he takes his shirt off.  Kids always seem to know when there's something really wrong with their friends. Mo says, "I used to think Dale was clumsy.  Then I realized he only got clumsy when Mr. Macon took drunk."  Mo doesn't tell and Dale doesn't tell but the whole town knows and everyone keeps their quiet watch on the family.  The respect and support of Dale's family (except for his dad) is tangible.

My copy of the ARC is porcupined with tiny slips of post-it notes marking especially wonderful turns of phrase or potent pieces of wisdom. It is one of those books that I read in bed and kept poking at D. to wake him up to hear the next bit.  Thank god he likes a bit of good writing, too.

Like this one:  (Mo sends notes in bottles to her upstream mom, hoping to get a note back about how her life ended up here.  Over the 11 years that she's been doing it, the notes have morphed into something more like diary entries.) "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."

Don't you love it?

It's a book with substance and great language.  The adults are troubled and trying to do the best they can, and the kids are dealing with trying times.  I appreciate a book that stretches readers in that age range of 8-12.  Many of the books for that group are fluffy or too silly or just don't make anyone think about things.  They're just another book on the shelf.  Kids will see aspects of their lives in Three Times Lucky; it'll make them laugh and think and then read it again.  The book will be their friend and they will keep it close.  Ages 10 and up.  (Dial.  $16.99.  Available May, 2012.  The review was based on an uncorrected text, so things may have changed by the publication date.)

(Nothing was exchanged for the review of this book.)

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