Book Review of Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

What My Kids Read Reviews Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage Three Times Lucky is a Newberry Honor winner, just published last year. It was exciting and well-written with warm, colorful thoroughly Southern descriptions, but I think the content is too mature for my kids who are 10 and under. I think it is better suited for middle schoolers. Three Times Lucky deals with heavy issues of an abandoned baby, murder, abusive parents, and divorce. Throughout it all, the sassy, scrappy main character, a girl named Mo (short for Moses), maintains a spunky, upbeat attitude. I enjoyed the story, but parents should be advised that there are some harsh scenes in this book.

If you want to get a taste, the sample of the audio book on Amazon definitely captures the essence of the book Just click here (affiliate link): Three Times Lucky and then on “Listen” right below the picture of the book.

Three Times Lucky emphasizes that family is not just about being blood-related, it’s about love.

My Mom-Meter gives Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky an overall safety rating of 3 (caution) for ages 12 and up.

Click here to skip to a Plot summary

Click here to skip straight to Potential Discussion Points

Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):

Alcohol/DrugsModerately Safe

BullyingModerately Safe

Disrespectful AttitudesModerately Safe

Gross BehaviorSafe

LanguageModerately Safe

Magic/SupernaturalSafe

Romance/SexCaution

Scary ThemesCaution

ViolenceExtreme Caution

Plot summary of Three Times Lucky: ***Contains Spoilers***

Focus on the Family’s book review website, Thriving Family, has a good plot summary here.

Potential Discussion Points for Parents in Three Times Lucky:

  • Mo’s best friend, a boy named Dale, has an abusive, alcoholic father. He’s “too sorry to bring home any air conditioning.” You might want to talk to your kids about how often addicts spend money on their addictions and neglect their families.
  • Dale stole, or “borrowed” without permission, a boat from a mean old man so he and Mo could go fishing. He then convinces the old man to offer a $10 reward for the boat. Dale then collects the reward. You might want to talk to your kids about Dale’s ethics.
  • Mo is looking for her mother by sending out bottles down the river, since her mother had sent her as a newborn down the river during a hurricane. You could talk with your children about why some mothers give up their babies.
  • Mo says “Some say I was born unlucky that night. Not me. I say I was born three times lucky. Lucky once when my Upstream Mother tied me to a makeshift raft and sent me swirling downstream to safety. Lucky twice when the Colonel crashed his car and stumbled to the creek just in time to snatch me from the flood. Lucky three times when Miss Lana took me in like I was her own, and kept me.” Was Mo lucky or unlucky? Isn’t interesting how you could see it either way, depending on your perspective?
  • Mo says “I might come home tore up from fighting or late from being punished, but I’d never come home crying.” Is that a good way to live?
  • Mo writes to her Upstream Mother:
    “Death makes you think. Everybody has a way of believing. The Colonel says… if God needs him, He knows where to find him. Miss Lana believes in treating people right. She mostly hits Church Festivities… Dale goes to church because Miss Rose likes him to. I sometimes go to keep him company, and to hear stories of the Original Moses. Lavender… believes in NASCAR Zen… If you’re wondering about me, like Miss Lana I believe in treating people good. And like the Colonel, I think God can find me.”

You might want to talk to your kids about what your family believes and maybe ask them what they believe about death.

  • Mo hears Anna Celeste’s mother being mean to Anna Celeste. You might want to talk to your kids about how bullies are often mean because they have been bullied by someone else.
  • Anna Celeste Simpson, Mo’s “Sworn Enemy for Life,” calls her a “throw-away kid” since Mo’s mother sent her away as a newborn. Mo says to Dale “I got nobody except an Upstream Mother I can’t find.” Dale says “Nobody? You got people driving out here to sit with you, bringing you food. You got Skeeter helping. You got Sal breaking her family rules for you. You for Anna Celeste helping, and she can’t stand you. You got me, and Mama, and Lavender. You got a town full of nobodies, in case you haven’t noticed… And I’m sick of hearing about your Upstream Mother. You think you’re the only person that ever got thrown away? You think Anna Celeste doesn’t get thrown away every time her mother looks razor blades at her? You think I don’t get thrown away every time Daddy…” He clamped his mouth shut. Is anyone a “throw away kid?” Was Mo really all alone, like she said? Just because someone has a family or is rich does not mean that they are not lonely and hurting. Did Mo really need her Upstream Mother?
  • Mr. Macon says “Rose, I’m sorry I hurt you. You just make me so mad I can’t help it.” Miss Rose divorced Mr. Macon at the end of the book. You might want to talk to your kids about how abusers blame their victims for “making” them behave that way. You also might want to talk about divorce and what your family believes about it.
  • Mr. Macon says “Shut up, Mo! You got too much mouth. No wonder your mother threw you away.” Finally, someone had said it out loud. And out loud, the words felt surprisingly thin. I looked Mr. Macon in the eye. “Maybe she did throw me away and maybe she didn’t.” I said. “But if she did, she only did it once. You throw your people away every day that rolls around, and it sure ain’t because something is wrong with them.” You might want to talk to your child about how important it is to treat those we love with love and respect – even when we don’t feel like it.
  • The Colonel says to Mo, “We can’t change the past, Soldier. We can only be grateful for the life of a new day, and move on.” Is the Colonel right? Can we change our past? What would it look like if we tried to change the past? So, if we can’t change the past, how do we gratefully move on?
  • At the end of the book, Mo realizes that the Colonel and Miss Lana are all the family she needs. You might want to talk to your child about what family really is.

Alcohol/Drugs:

  • Lavender and Dale’s father is an alcoholic. There are many references to him coming home “drinking again.”
  • The doctor tells Lavender that he may have a concussion. “No alcohol. No women.”
  • Mo says that the twin girls, who have been drinking 7-Up, were “sober out of their minds.”
  • Breathalyzing is mentioned once.
  • Dale’s dad had “too much to drink,” which is code for “passed out cold.”
  • Lavender’s friend drank so much, he smells “like a brewery.”
  • Dale’s dad beats Dale when he is drunk. Mo sees red marks on Dale’s ribs. “I used to think Dale was clumsy. then I realized he only got clumsy when Mr. Macon took drunk.” Mo later tells Dale “I hate him for hitting you, Dale… I’ve seen the marks. If he tries it around me, I’ll take him down… I’m a born scrapper, plus I have karate skills.” Dale replies “He’s twice as big as you are, Mo… When Daddy hits, he means it… Don’t hit him unless you aim to kill him, Mo, I mean it.”
  • Dale’s family has a tobacco barn, and tobacco plants are mentioned a few times. At the end of the book, Miss Rose starts “a living history tour of a 1930s tobacco farm.”
  • Miss Lana offers the detective wine.
  • Dale’s dad, Mr. Macon, is slumped at a diner table. The detective asked “Too much wine?” Miss Lana answered “Too much drink well before he arrived at my door.”
  • Mr. Jesse called Dale “you no-good son of a white trash drunk.”
  • The detective asks about Dale’s dad, Mr. Macon. “Had he been drinking?” Dale answered “He’s always been drinking.”
  • “Silence hung on the air like stale tobacco smoke.”
  • Mo compares her pounding heart to a”crack-head chimpanzee with a bongo.”
  • Mr. Macon is “drunk driving.” Dale says that his dad drives “straighter drunk than he does sober.”
  • The is a brief mention of “the still everybody pretends [Redneck Red] ain’t running.”
  • Mr. Macon shows up drunk and begins to bully and threaten his family.

Bullying:

  • Anna Celeste Simpson, Mo’s “Sworn Enemy for Life,” calls her a “throw-away kid” since Mo’s mother sent her away as a newborn.
  • Mo recounts her first encounter with Anna Celeste on the first day of kindergarten. Mo walked across the playground to meet her, and Anna Celeste’s mother said “No honey, It’s that girl from the café. She’s not one of us.” Anna Celeste then stuck her tongue out at Mo, and Mo head-butted Anna Celeste in the stomach. Mo says “I might come home tore up from fighting or late from being punished, but I’d never come home crying.”
  • Anna Celeste calls Mo “Mo-ron.” Mo calls her “Attila Celeste.”
  • Anna Celeste says “At least I have a mother, Mo-ron.”
  • Dale’s dad beats Dale when he is drunk. Mo sees red marks on Dale’s ribs. “I used to think Dale was clumsy. then I realized he only got clumsy when Mr. Macon took drunk.” Mo later tells Dale “I hate him for hitting you, Dale… I’ve seen the marks. If he tries it around me, I’ll take him down… I’m a born scrapper, plus I have karate skills.” Dale replies “He’s twice as big as you are, Mo… When Daddy hits, he means it… Don’t hit him unless you aim to kill him, Mo, I mean it.”
  • Mr. Jesse called Dale “you no-good son of a white trash drunk.” and he said “get your scrawny good-for-nothing self off of my land before I call the law.”
  • Mr. Macon grabs Miss Rose by the “front of her blouse and yanked her forward onto her toes… Mr. Macon’s hand swooped in a clean vicious arc, slamming Mis Rose’s face, snapping her head back. She staggered sideways, her knees buckling as she crashed to the floor.” Later, Mr. Macon says “Rose, I’m sorry I hurt you. You just make me so mad I can’t help it.”

Disrespectful Attitudes:

  • Mo tells Mr. Jesse that he could “stand to lose that belly.”
  • Mo says “Sometimes I could kill the Colonel for giving me a name like Mo.”
  • Lavender calls his alcoholic, abusive dad by his first name. He “slammed out of his daddy’s house the day he turned 18 and hasn’t been back.”
  • Dale calls Mr. Jesse “you ugly waste of human skin.” (Mr. Jesse said some hateful things to Dale prior to this.)
  • Mo rolls her eyes when the detective asks her question as his own.

Gross Behavior:

  • Dales mispronounces crepes and calls them “craps.”
  • The twin girls need to “pee.” It is mentioned twice.
  • “Butt” is said once.
  • Dale says “Gag me” once.
  • Mo throws up from nervousness. Dale asks if she is done “barfing.” He “can’t tolerate other people throwing up. He gets what known as Synchronized Heaves.”

Language:

  • Miss rose says “Lord have mercy” when she sees Mo in her house at 6am.
  • Dale says “Holy moly” once.
  • Mr. Jesse says some “jackass” stole his boat.
  • Thes, the son of the Baptist preacher, is a “weather freak.”
  • Dale says “boobs” twice.
  • “Son of a gun” is said several times.
  • “Arrogant fop” is said once.
  • “Dad-blamed” is used once. “The Colonel says he can’t find a dad-blamed thing in there. He would say more, but Miss Lana doesn’t allow cursing.”
  • Dale’s dad thinks that Dale singing in church is “sissified.” He wants him to be good at football and racing cars.
  • “Old coot” is said twice.
  • “Jeez Louis” is said once.
  • “Good Lord” is said once.
  • “Damn” is said once.
  • Anna Celeste calls Mo “Mo-ron.”
  • The Colonel says he would rather be “fricasseed in hell” before he gets a safety light and drowns out the stars.
  • “Idiot” is said twice.
  • “Crud” is used twice.
  • Mr. Macon calls his wife, Miss Rose, a “no-good mother.”
  • Miss Lana says “For heaven’s sake.”
  • Mr. Jesse called Dale “you no-good son of a white trash drunk.” and he said “get your scrawny good-for-nothing self off of my land before I call the law.”
  • Dale calls Mr. Jesse “you ugly waste of human skin.”
  • “Stupid” is used several times.
  • Mo calls the murderer Slate “reptile brain,” “pervert,” “you idiot,” and “dirtbag.”
  • Mo pretends to be talking to a telemarketer, and calls him “moron” and “jerk brain,” and tells him she doesn’t want his “stupid all-expense-paid vacation.”
  • Mo and Dale hear an intruder swear in her house. “Someone swore softly.”
  • Marla says she is tired of Dale’s “redneck mouth.”
  • The Colonel calls Mr. Macon a “yellow-bellied traitor.”
  • Mr. Macon says “Cripes.”
  • Miss Rose says “For God’s sake.”
  • The Colonel says “God help me.”
  • Dale tells someone to wait by saying “keep your pants on!”

Magic/Supernatural:

  • When wakened from a deep sleep, Dale shouts “Demons!”
  • Fate, luck, and “Forces Unknown” are attributed to Mo’s strange life story.
  • Mo says “Some say I was born unlucky that night. Not me. I say I was born three times lucky.”
  • Mo says that Miss Lana “studied her like a star chart ” and can read her “like a Gypsy reads tea leaves.”
  • The Colonel says he would rather be “fricasseed in hell” before he gets a safety light and drowns out the stars.
  • Mo says the weather is “hotter than the devil’s curling iron.”
  • Mo writes to her Upstream Mother:

“Death makes you think. Everybody has a way of believing. The Colonel says… if God needs him, He knows where to find him. Miss Lana believes in treating people right. She mostly hits Church Festivities… Dale goes to church because Miss Rose likes him to. I sometimes go to keep him company, and to hear stories of the Original Moses. Lavender… believes in NASCAR Zen… If you’re wondering about me, like Miss Lana I believe in treating people good. And like the Colonel, I think God can find me.”

  • Lavender believes in “NASCAR Zen.” “The car is the body… The driver is awareness zipping in and out of traffic. And the Zen is Everything of it – track, car, self, other drivers. You focus without thinking to win.”
  • Mo is called the “goddess of free enterprise” several times.
  • Lavender is “devilish handsome.”
  • Mr. Macon tells Miss Rose to “Shut up.” Later, he tells Mo to “Sit down and shut up. Don’t, and you’ll find yourself tied up like that loud-mouth step-mother of yours.”
  • Mr. Macon, Dale’s dad, calls Dale “you little nothing.”
  • “The Colonel backed away like he’d seen the Devil himself.”

Romance/Sex:

  • Mo lives with Miss Lana and the Colonel. They have their own living quarters in the same house. They spend more time apart than together. At the end of the book, we learn that they had been planning to elope when the Colonel wrecked his car, found Mo, and lost his memory. Miss Lana lived with them, hoping that the Colonel would fall in love with her again. They are finally together and in love at the very end of the book.
  • Dale’s mother, Miss Rose, “used to be a real beauty back before time and Dale’s daddy got hold of her.” She had a “sway that made men stand taller.”
  • Mo mentions often that Dale’s brother, Lavender, is good-looking. She often mentions him as “Lavender, who I will one day marry.” He is 8 years older than her. She plans to adopt six children with him. “If I was old enough, I’d snatch him up and marry him before sundown. I’ve asked him plenty of times.”
  • When Mr. Starr, the detective, looks at pictures of Miss Lana dressed up for Hollywood Night, Dale tells him twice that “the boobs aren’t real.”
  • Mo mentions in a letter to her Upstream Mother that she is “on the verge of puberty.”
  • Dale says that he was told that he is “too pretty to do hard time.”
  • Mo tells Lavender “That new girl friends of your – what’s her name? Candy? Taffy? You may not know it, but a girl like that will rot your teeth out. How about you marry me?”
  • Twin girls are winking at Lavender and his friend, Sam.
  • Mo’s teacher, Miss Retzyl, dates the detective, Mr. Starr.
  • The doctor tells Lavender that he may have a concussion. “No alcohol. No women.”
  • Mo embarrasses Anna Celeste by telling the detective that Anna Celeste is “boy-crazy.”
  • Miss Lana says that Mr. Jesse had a girlfriend, a “heavy-set beauty” with a “jealous husband.”
  • Sal has “a love for Dale that will go epic, if he ever notices.”
  • There are pictures of Miss Lana as a girl, “prior to blossoming.” Dale comments “way to blossom” when he sees pictures of her as a young woman.
  • Anna Celeste starts flirting with Dale because he is now famous as a murder suspect.
  • The twin girls ignore Lavender after his accident and link arms with another man.
  • Lavender tells Dale “You’re a regular celebrity. No wonder the girls are after you… I couldn’t get a date right now if my life depended on it.” Mo says “Yes you could. I’ll go out with you in just seven more years.”
  • Lavender’s house is messy. Dales asks “Did the twins do this?” Lavender answers “The twins have been scarce since the crash, little brother.” Mo thinks “those twins are idiots. Even depressed, Lavender is melt-down gorgeous.”
  • 19-year-old Lavender kisses 11-year-old Mo’s face after she helps him raise over a thousand dollars for a car. “What happened next will live as one of the great moments in history: Lavender smiled, bent down, and kissed my face. My first kiss! And it was from Lavender!”
  • Dale mentions that Lavender gave him weights to use after he hits puberty.
  • Mo asks the murderer, Slate, “You some kind of pervert, calling up little girls and asking if they’re alone? Because I’m not allowed to talk to perverts.”
  • Deputy Marla smiled at Lavender “the way that women smile at Lavender.”
  • Mr. Macon thought that Detective Starr was Miss Rose’s boyfriend.
  • Mo tells Mr. Macon that Detective Starr “got the hots” for Miss Retzyl.
  • Dale sends ice water over to Sal at the end of the book, and smiles at her. Sal then knocks over the glass.
  • Lavender calls Mo “Sherlock,” and she is thrilled to have a “pet name.” He stretches his legs out, “Lavender knows how to wear a pair of jeans.”

Scary Themes:

  • A murder is mentioned where the murderer “cut [his victim’s] phone line, same into his house, and pulled the trigger.”
  • Mr. Jesse is murdered, hit in the head from behind, and his body is found in his rowboat.
  • The Colonel says “There is a killer amongst us.”
  • Some people said that the Colonel had earned a black belt by killing a man.
  • Mo’s home is a mess from a struggle, and Miss Lana is kidnapped and held for a half million dollars ransom.
  • The Colonel writes a letter to Mo, describing what he thinks her mother went through, going into labor during a hurricane, her home flooding, and her deciding to put newborn Mo on a makeshift raft to save her life.
  • The Colonel jokes that without his private space staying neat, he would have to shoot Miss Lana and leave her for dead for her “creative chaos.”
  • There is blood everywhere in the abandoned house where the murderer had help Miss Lana. “Blood on the floor, blood on a shattered lamp, blood on the faded wallpaper.” They find a hand print of blood on the wallpaper and they follow it out to the driveway. You find out later that Miss Lana hit Slate with a lamp, and the blood is his, from a cut on his hand and his head.
  • Dale’s father comes home drink in the midst of the storm. He is violent, and Dale ends up pointing a gun at him, threatening to kill his father if he doesn’t leave.
  • You find out at the end of the book that the Colonel had been a lawyer, representing Slate, a bank robber accused of killing a security guard. When he was convicted, Slate told the Colonel to find the loot from that holdup and save it. If the Colonel didn’t, Slate would kill every person connected to the case. The Colonel didn’t believe Slate, and the next morning, the Colonel’s secretary was dead. He then went to warn everyone when the hurricane hit, he had his accident, lost his memory, and found baby Mo.

Violence:

  • Lavender is in a dramatic car crash while racing. “The night fell into slow motion as Lavender’s car somersaulted down the wall, bounced right side up, and wobbled to the infield.” Lavender ends up only needing some stitches in his arm, a black eye, and a possible concussion.
  • Dale’s dad beats Dale when he is drunk. Mo sees red marks on Dale’s ribs. “I used to think Dale was clumsy. then I realized he only got clumsy when Mr. Macon took drunk.” Mo later tells Dale “I hate him for hitting you, Dale… I’ve seen the marks. If he tries it around me, I’ll take him down… I’m a born scrapper, plus I have karate skills.” Dale replies “He’s twice as big as you are, Mo… When Daddy hits, he means it… Don’t hit him unless you aim to kill him, Mo, I mean it.”
  • Miss Rose has a shotgun by the door to shoot snakes.
  • Deputy Marla points a pistol at Mo and Dale, and the children learn she is working with the murderer Slate. She grabs Mo, and her fingers pinch Mo’s arm. Marla shakes Mo twice and pushes Dale. When Marla goes after a packet, Mo throws a steel-toe boot at her, and misses. Marla slips and falls while dodging the boot. The children tie her up with the Colonel’s neckties and slash her tires.
  • Dale’s dad shows up drunk in the middle of the storm and shoves his wife, Miss Rose, across the room when she tells him to leave.
  • Mr. Macon grabs Miss Rose by the “front of her blouse and yanked her forward onto her toes… Mr. Macon’s hand swooped in a clean vicious arc, slamming Mis Rose’s face, snapping her head back. She staggered sideways, her knees buckling as she crashed to the floor.” Mo uses her karate to knock Mr. Macon to the ground, and stepped forward to elbow his chin when Miss Rose stopped her. “Stop… He’ll kill you.” Mr. Macon laughs and comes forward with his fist raised when Dale fires the shotgun as a warning and then points the gun at his father. “Get out of the house or I swear I will kill you.” Mo tells Dale to pull the trigger, but he doesn’t have it in him to kill his father. The Colonel arrives just in time to take over. He ties up Mr. Macon.
  • The Colonel takes Mr. Macon’s unloaded pistol to confront Slate. He tells Miss Rose, “If Macon gives you any trouble, feel free to shoot him.”
  • The Colonel points the unloaded pistol at Slate, asking where Miss Lana is. Then, Mo holds the unloaded gun while the Colonel and Dale tie Slate up.
  • Miss Lana hit Slate with a lamp, and he was cut on his hand and his head.
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