by Shelia Turnage
First sentence: “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.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
It was all just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. See, Mo (that’s short for Moses; and yes, she is a girl) LoBeau’s (emphasis on the second syllable because it classes it up) friend Dale (Earnheart Junior III) just wanted to borrow Mr. Jesse’s boat, and then decided to return it for a “finders fee.” It wasn’t Dale’s fault Mr. Jesse turned up dead.
(It has occurred to me that I’ve read a number of middle grade books with dead people recently. Must be a trend…)
From there, of course, Mr. Jesse’s murder (It’s not grisly, at all. Promise.) turns the tiny, rural, North Carolina town of Tupelo Landing upside down. And Mo and Dale are smack dab in the middle of it. To clear Dale’s name, they set out trying to solve the mystery, and are thwarted at every turn by Detective Joe Starr, the adult who’s (really) working the case. Mo and Dale keep at it, though, because the whole case somehow seems to involve the Colonel and Miss Lana, the two people to whom Mo, an orphan, is closest.
Honestly: I’ve read my share of Southern novels, and so I figured it was just another run-of-the-mill, murder-mystery-light/Southern thing. But I couldn’t put it this book down. In addition to murder, this book has everything: drama, car racing, suspense, plucky kids, arch-enemies, robbery, unrequited love, and karate. It’s everything Southern, but the pecan pie. (And I’m sure that would have shown up, had the book been set at Thanksgiving instead of during the summer.) There’s a little something for everyone here, which makes any book appealing.
But the real reason to fall in love with this book — as I did — is because Turnage has created a wonderful couple of characters in Mo (“My heart leaped like the cheerleader I will never be.”) and Dale (“Dale may not know much from the classroom, but his recess skills are legendary.”). In fact, all the characters, from Miss Lana (“I passed the wigs to Miss Lana, completing her Hollywood Through the Ages collection. Miss Lana has a flair for drama.”) and the Colonel (“Miss Lana says hugging the Colonel’s like hugging a turning plow.”), down to Mayor Little (“We always choose a Little for mayor in case a television crew ever comes to town. Littles like to talk and they’re naturally neat; even their babies dress good.”) and aspiring lawyer Skeeter (“Rumor has it she’s already written to Matchbook University for a paralegal course under an assumed name. She won’t say if that’s true or false, only that unsubstantiated rumor won’t hold up in court.”) pop off the page, and it’s entirely because of the way Turnage writes.
It’s also the small-town, rural Southern feel: kids biking everywhere, technology limited because coverage is spotty, rusted cars on lawns. It’s a place caught out of time, perfect for two kids to have the adventure of a summer. And perhaps to learn a little bit about themselves, and the meaning of family, in the process.
For us, it means an perfectly charming book. Period.