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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Quirky Southern Characters...Y'all.


I don't mind MG or YA books set in the American South.  Truly.  But, well, I lately I began to grow a little tired of them.  The catfish is deep fried, the weather is hot and muggy, and Billy Bob is goin' fishin', while his Mamma Mizz MaryLou Boudreaux is headin' on down to the Piggly Wiggly with her curlers still in her hair.  A slow, lazy river is sure to be nearby, with a picturesque steamboat chugging along, or everyone will be heading to the track for the races (horse races, Nascar, weiner dog races, etc.)  Sooner or later, a hurricane will blow in.

Now, the South is a great place for a novel's setting.  It almost becomes another character itself in the book.  Take: "To Kill a Mockingbird," for example, or "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café."  But at this point in my life, after having read many, many books, (and hoping to read many more), all the "quirky Southern stereotypes" began to get to me.  Book after book, they all seemed to be the same. 

The characters would have: 
1.  an unusual name
2.  an unusual job or life situation
3.  unusual problems
4.  some kind of bizarre neurological tic, resulting in the excessive use of the word:  "y'all" and     clever, quaint, yet wise sayings
5.  hot, muggy weather-related difficulties

Enter a writer named Sheila Turnage.  I'd not heard of her books, but my eleven year old handed me the MG novel: "Three Times Lucky," and said, "You'll love this one, Mom."  I took a quick glance at it.  It's set in the American South, in a tiny, dare I say "quirky" town in North Carolina.  The town is Tupelo Landing.  Population:  128 (minus 1 for murder).

A warning light flashed in my brain. 

The main character is a girl named Moses LoBeau, or "Mo," for short. 

The warning bells began to sound, along with the flashing lights.

Mo has a best friend, Dale (Earnhardt Johnson III), is in love with Dale's big brother, ahem, Lavender, and lives with her unusual family, consisting of "The Colonel," and Miss Lana, who have unofficially adopted her ever since she washed up onshore as an infant after a hurricane.  Hence the name Moses.  Hence, my desire the throw the book as far from me as I could, as the Red Alert signal now screamed inside my head.

But I trust my daughter.  She loved the book, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Well, shut my mouth and slather me in molasses!

The book was fantastic.  And yes, it had all of those annoying "Southerific characteristics" that I tend to grow bored with, but Mo's voice is fun, silly, sassy and sweet, clever and authentic.  She becomes entangled in a murder since her friend Dale is the main suspect and decides to solve the mystery herself.  Thus the "Desperado Detective Agency" is formed by Dale and Mo, an eleven-year old girl or "rising sixth grader" as she calls herself. 

I guess I learned something.  I may decide that I'm "done" with a particular genre, and I kind of consider the "strong sassy Southern girl" type to be a genre in and of itself.  However, the wonderful thing about books is that sooner or later, something comes along that will make you change your mind.  Ms. Turnage is a great writer who makes every word count, and I loved her story. 

I will eat my words.  Y'all.

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