Three Times Lucky
Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt. Almost before the dust had settled, Mr. Jesse turned up dead and life in Tupelo Landing turned upside down.
As far as I know, nobody expected it.
As for me—Miss Moses LoBeau, rising sixth grader—trouble was the last thing on my mind as I crept across Dale’s front porch at six o’ clock that morning. “Hey Dale,” I whispered, pressing my face against his sagging window screen. “Wake up.”
While this is one of the better novels I’ve read this year, I still have mixed feelings about its Newberyness, and I’m hoping our discussion will help me sort things out.
On the one hand, we have a charming heroine with a delightful voice, a vividly evoked small town setting peopled by a colorful cast of characters, and mysteries both large and small that further invite readers into the story. There is abundant evidence of distinction in all of these elements.
On the other hand, the Spunky/Feisty/Charming Heroine with a Southern/Country/Folksy Voice with a Dead/Missing/Absent Mother is such a tired cliche in children’s fiction. I do think this rises above most of them, but I’m not sure that it elevates itself to the point where it needs to be inducted into the canon with India Opal Buloni and company.
Another question is whether the mystery works properly, whether the clues really add up or whether the story just employs the trappings of the mystery genre. This issue is further muddled for me by the tone of the book which stretches credibility in quite a few places. I’m willing to buy into some of the more fantastic tall tale elements just as long as the logic of the mystery is preserved intact.
And yet another concern for me is pacing. Contrary to what Mo says on the opening page, it takes almost a third of the book for the death to occur. Most mystery novels wouldn’t let the first chapter end without the crime happening. While the beginning is awfully slow, the story does pick up steam, but . . . too little, too late?
This is the kind of book where I really need some discussion and rereading to help me decide whether this one climbs higher in my estimation.
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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