Study Guide

Three Times Lucky Analysis

  • Tone

    Smart and Sassy

    Because Three Times Lucky is told entirely from Mo LoBeau's perspective, the tone is decidedly spunky. Mo has an opinion on everyone… and she usually says what she thinks. For example, her description of Anna Celeste lets readers know right away that she is not a fan of the girl:

    Anna Celeste Simpson—blond hair, brown eyes, perfect smile—became my Sworn Enemy for Life our first day of kindergarten. (3.50)

    Mo's voice pervades the book, giving readers entertaining, smart, and sassy insights from a self-proclaimed amateur detective. This keeps things fun to read, no matter how dark the subject matter gets.

  • Genre

    Young Adult Literature; Mystery

    Young Adult Literature

    Three Times Lucky is definitely geared toward younger readers. It's a murder mystery that could easily focus on any one of the many adult players in the book, but instead it's told from the perspective of Mo LoBeau, a kid who's going into sixth grade and has plenty of sass with smarts to spare. We get Mo's thoughts and movements throughout the book, and even though Mo and Dale are just kids, they are able to track down a known murderer and save the day. Three cheers for smart kids.


    The plot of Three Times Lucky definitely revolves around a good old-fashioned murder mystery. When bodies start turning up in Tupelo Landing and Mo's beloved Miss Lana goes missing, it's clear that there's a nefarious bad guy on the loose. By tracking down clues, talking to the people that they know, and nosing their way into the police investigation, Mo and Dale take down murdering bank robber Robert Slate and his associates.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The book's title of Three Times Lucky refers to a passage in which Mo talks about her origin story and how she came to live in Tupelo Landing:

    Some say I was born unlucky that night. Not me. I say I was 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. (3.10-11)

    The title is a shout-out to how Mo frames her life. Instead of thinking about the negative aspects of her story—like how she doesn't know who her parents are, and how she was floating down the creek in a raft as a little baby—Mo focuses on the positive. She decides to embrace the fact that she survived and was found by a wonderful family, mostly enjoying where life has taken her. Without her bright and optimistic spirit, the tone could get pretty depressing in this book.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    There are three things that are resolved at the end of Three Times Lucky—the murder, the mystery of the Colonel's origins, and Mo's desire to find her "upstream mother." The police arrest Robert Slate and his associates, the Colonel discovers that he used to be a lawyer, and Mo lets go of her need to find her birth mother, deciding instead that she's happy where she is:

    The café door banged open. Miss Lana ran toward him, her arms wide. He scooped her up and whirled her around as friends and neighbors spilled across the parking lot, laughing and crying, and then clapping the Colonel's back.

    As I watched them together, my earth found its axis and my stars found their sky. (29.86-87)

    The ending leaves things just as they should be, with Mo in Tupelo Landing surrounded by the people who love her. Who could ask for anything more?

  • Setting

    Tupelo Landing, North Carolina

    The entirety of Three Times Lucky takes place in the made-up small town of Tupelo Landing in North Carolina. It's a distinctly Southern setting, and the small-town aspect of it makes so that the community is very insular, close, and involved in each other's business. In fact, everyone in town comes to Miss Lana's café each day to catch up with the latest news:

    By 7:30 half the town had crowded into the café and rising seventh grader Skeeter McMillan—tall, slender, freckles the color of fresh-sliced baloney—had claimed the counter's last spot. (1.80)

    Tupelo Landing is the sort of place where you can't do anything without all your neighbors knowing about it. Everyone knows where everyone else lives, what they're doing, and what issues they're having—and everything travels through word of mouth. Miss Rose, Mo, and Dale can't even eat lunch in the front yard without the whole town showing up. This might be overwhelming to some people (especially those who value privacy), but it's just the way of life in Tupelo Landing.

    This small-town setting heightens the sense of urgency as the mystery unfolds. In such a small town, the betrayals by certain residents are all the more shocking, and there's a sense that the murderer could be lurking anywhere.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (3) Base Camp

    The language in Three Times Lucky is pretty simple and easy to follow—after all, it is told from the perspective of an eleven-year-old girl. Sure, you have to get used to her unique voice (Mo lives in the deep South), but once you grow accustomed to the way people talk and interact in Mo's world, you're in for a smooth ride through Tupelo Landing.

  • Writing Style

    Southern Grit

    The writing style in Three Times Lucky definitely takes into account the book's Southern setting, and this comes through especially in the dialogue between characters. There's a lot of "yes ma'am" and that good old Southern hospitality:

    "Don't trouble yourself dear," she replied. "I have a basket of fried chicken in the Buick. Let's spread a tablecloth on the porch. Detective? Deputy?" She fastened her smile on Deputy Marla. "You are a full deputy, aren't you dear?"

    "Yes, ma'am," Deputy Marla said, standing up straight. (21.7-8)

    The writing style is also pretty no nonsense because it's told from the perspective of Mo, who tells things like they are. The story flows at a rapid pace and is relayed to the reader in an unpretentious style—as though Mo is telling the story to a good friend over a campfire.

  • The Message in a Bottle

    Throughout the book, Mo continually writes little messages to her "upstream mother," her term for the birth mother she's never known. Mo places them in bottles and sends them down the creek with the hopes that one day her mother will find them and come to claim her:

    "Dear Upstream Mother,

    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.
    " (3.27)

    Okay, so clearly Mo's lugging around a serious desire to reconnect with her roots—otherwise she wouldn't write so often, or have done so for so long. Even though she has Miss Lana and the Colonel, Mo worries that she doesn't have a "real" family and that she doesn't belong in Tupelo Landing like everyone else in her community. Thing is, in always looking beyond Tupelo Landing, Mo fails to recognize just how much she has right where she is. She has family, friends, a good home—truth be told, there's little finding her birth mother can offer her that she doesn't have already.

    Don't get us wrong: We're not trivializing Mo's desire to find her birth mom and see what that lady's all about. It's just that Mo's sense of not belonging in Tupelo Landing is created far more by Mo and her investment in finding her birth mom than it is the reality of her life there. Mo is one loved kid.

    In the end, Mo decides that she doesn't care that her messages have gone unanswered, making it clear she's finally let go of all her anxiety about fitting in. She accepts that she's a part of this community and this family, realizing just how much goodness already surrounds her. Yay.

  • The Café

    The café isn't just some place that the residents of Tupelo Landing stop by to get a burger or a sandwich—it serves as the center of social life in this tiny town. Even when Mo is running the café and only serving peanut butter sandwiches, everyone stops by because it's routine to do so and catch up with everyone else. Even the mayor shows up and eats Mo's peanut butter sandwiches without complaint:

    Mayor tiptoed to the counter, his polished loafers tick-tick-ticking across the tile floor. "Miss Lana gone? The Colonel back? An unfortunate turn of events, but put in an historical context, it's nothing the town can't handle," he murmured. "Morning, Mo. Give me a special and drink du jour. No ice. My gums are giving me fits." (1.68)

    In addition to being the hub of the community, the café also provides a pleasant escape from small town boredom. Miss Lana and the Colonel make sure to conjure exotic themes for the café like Karate Night (with Chinese food served) and Paris-themed decorations (with French food served):

    The Colonel keeps the café military crisp; Miss Lana prefers a theme. Glancing around, I pegged today's theme as 1930s Paris—her favorite. A miniature Eiffel Tower graced the counter, and scratchy accordion music crackled from the ancient Victrola she'd placed near the jukebox. (12.32)

    Tupelo Landing may just be a blip on the map for most people, but with the café, the residents can feel like they're still a part of the wider world, vicariously experiencing new places and foods without having to leave their tiny little town.

  • The Hurricane

    There are two hurricanes that happen in Three Times Lucky—one in the past when Mo is found by the Colonel, and one when she's racing to find Miss Lana before Robert Slate hurts her. As Mo and Dale go to find her loved ones, the storm starts to rage:

    Dale pumped like he could out-pedal the storm, me balanced on his handlebars, the storm's flat, angry hands shoving us along the blacktop. Dale stood up on the pedals, panting as the front wheel began to squeak. (24.1)

    But even though the hurricanes are scary and overwhelming, they both bring together Mo's little family. In the first instance, Mo is an infant and is literally pushed downstream on a raft by a hurricane until the Colonel finds her after crashing his car near Tupelo Landing. After that, the Colonel and Miss Lana take her in and raise her as their own.

    In the case of the second hurricane, Mo's family has just been torn apart by Robert Slate. But as the hurricane rages on, she rushes into danger to find the Colonel and Miss Lana, working to bring them all together again. And wouldn't you know it—she succeeds.

    Some storms destroy, but in this book, hurricanes swirl with love. Aw.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Central)

    Three Times Lucky is told from the perspective of Moses "Mo" LoBeau, a kid from the small town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina. Mo blew into town during a hurricane, which is fitting since she has a personality that could knock down trees.

    This personality of Mo's shines through as she reveals her thoughts at every turn. We see exactly what she is thinking and how she feels as events unfold—her lovey dovey feelings for Lavender, her fear when Mr. Jesse turns up murdered, her anger when Miss Lana is captured. By telling the story from Mo's perspective, the book gives readers a front-row seat to all the action and provides them with some funny anecdotes and insights.

    • Plot Analysis


      A New Sheriff in Town

      Everything is hunky dory in Tupelo Landing, a small southern town that readers are introduced to through the eyes of a scrappy eleven-year-old named Mo, who has a nontraditional family. But as Mo works in her family's café one day, a stranger comes in. His name is Detective Joe Starr, and he's here to investigate a murder. How exciting, right? And with that, our plot is officially off and running.

      Rising Action

      Mr. Jesse's Demise

      Things heat up when another body turns up—that of Mr. Jesse, Mo's neighbor. At the same time, Dale (her best friend) is freaked out because he's the last person who saw Mr. Jesse alive. Not only that, but Dale stole the guy's boat. It doesn't look good. Detective Starr continues to investigate, though, and concludes that Dale isn't the murderer. Starr still doesn't know who is, though. He also discovers that Mr. Jesse had given the church one hundred bucks a week for the past eleven years. Where'd he get so much money? And so the plot thickens.


      Missing Miss Lana

      Things go from bad to worse when Mo comes home one day to find Miss Lana missing and their house ransacked. And the Colonel is still gone, too, though his whereabouts are also a mystery. They figure out that the murderer is a man named Robert Slate, who was just in jail for bank robbery… and that Mr. Jesse was probably his accomplice. With both her guardians M.I.A., poor Mo is super sad and worried and ends up going to stay with Dale and his mother, Miss Rose.

      Falling Action


      The Colonel calls Mo to tell her that he's escaped but that he's going back to save Miss Lana. On his instruction, she goes over to the house to find a packet of papers that he wants her to get, and while she and Dale are there, Deputy Marla comes in and points a gun at them. Oh no, they've been double-crossed. Curses.

      Luckily, though, they overpower her and rush back to Miss Rose's house, only to find that Dale's abusive dad has returned and is admitting to helping out Robert Slate. The Colonel shows up right then and helps them subdue Dale's pops, and then they all go to Mr. Jesse's place to look for Miss Lana. With the Colonel back, and Marla exposed, things are starting to wrap up, even if they still feel tense.


      The Truth Comes Out

      They capture Robert Slate and find Miss Lana unharmed. In the process, the Colonel learns that he used to be Robert Slate's attorney, and that he hasn't forgiven himself for getting the jerk an easy sentence. In the end, everything goes back to normal and Miss Lana reopens the café. Dale and his family are also super happy because Miss Rose officially divorces her husband and opens a touring business at her tobacco farm. And everyone lives happily ever after.