Study Guide

Three Times Lucky Themes

  • Family

    In Three Times Lucky, Mo may not have the most traditional family, but she has the best one that she can imagine. She lives with the Colonel and Miss Lana, and though none of them are related by blood, Mo feels safe and loved with them—though she still really wants to find her birth mother. Throughout the book, she writes to her upstream mother with the hope that she'll write back, but never receives a response. By the end, though, Mo realizes that she doesn't have to go looking elsewhere for a "real" family. This family is as real as family gets.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why does Mo want to find her upstream mother so badly? Be sure to use the text to defend your answer.
    2. How does Dale react to Mo's search for her mother? Why? Does his own family dynamic influence him at all?
    3. Are the Colonel and Miss Lana good parents? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Mo spends the whole book searching for her upstream mother just to realize at the end that her real family has been here all along. She belongs with the Colonel and Miss Lana.

    Dale is constantly annoyed with Mo's search for her upstream mother not because he's tired of hearing it, but because he's envious that she already has a nice, caring family while he has an abusive father.

  • Friendship

    When Three Times Lucky begins, Mo is sneaking into Dale's house at 6:00AM to wake him up—and he doesn't find this weird. That's the kind of best friendship that Mo and Dale have, the kind where they'll do anything for each other with no questions asked. Even when Dale gets into deep trouble for stealing Mr. Jesse's boat right before he dies (yikes), Mo stands by him, even enlisting a lawyer-in-training to help with his case. She's a true blue friend, and he's a true blue friend, and together they make a heckofa team.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Do Mo and Dale ever fight? Why or why not? What does this tell you about their friendship? How about them as individuals?
    2. Mo doesn't know her birth mom and Dale has a terrible dad, so how much does their shared experience of bad parents matter in their friendship? Be sure to work with quotes from the text.
    3. Does Mo ever doubt Dale when it comes to the murder? How can you tell? And what do you think of this?

    Chew on This

    Even when Miss Lana and the Colonel go missing, Mo isn't completely alone because she still has Dale, who will go anywhere with her.

    In this book, friendship is just as important as family.

  • Community

    The small town of Tupelo Landing in Three Times Lucky is filled with local characters, all of whom interact on a daily basis and gossip like old hens about each other. That's just the way that this small town works. Growing up in Tupelo Landing and working at the café (where everyone goes for their meals), Mo has a strong sense of her community and this place in the world. She may not have seen much beyond Tupelo Landing, but she knows all there is to know about her town and the people in it. And they know all about her, too.

    Questions About Community

    1. Why is Mr. Jesse's murder such a shock to everyone in Tupelo Landing? Think about this particular community and the ways it operates to really dig deep into this one.
    2. How do the townspeople react when Detective Starr comes to the café? What patterns do you notice here?
    3. How does the café function as a center of the community? What sorts of nourishment does it provide besides food?

    Chew on This

    A bigger town wouldn't have given two figs about Mr. Jesse's murder.

    When Detective Joe Starr first comes to Tupelo Landing, he receives a cold welcome from a lot of the townspeople because the community is so tight-knit that it's wary of strangers.

  • Love

    In Three Times Lucky, Mo is surrounded by the love of her community and untraditional family, even if she doesn't know who her birth mother is. It's obvious that the Colonel and Miss Lana love her very much and would protect her against all odds, and that Dale's family feels similarly about her. After Miss Lana is taken hostage, Miss Rose and other community members rally together to make sure Mo is well cared for. They treat her like she's family and she treats them in the same way because they all love and care about each other. This book may be short on romance, but it's big on love.

    Questions About Love

    1. What does Miss Rose mean when she says that sometimes she thinks that Mo loves Lavender just as much as she does? Why does Mo connect with Dale's family to the degree she does?
    2. How do Mo and Dale show their love for each other? Be specific, yo.
    3. We see family, marriages, friendships, and more in this book, but which form of love is presented as the strongest? Remember to back your claim up with evidence from the text.

    Chew on This

    The Colonel may not be a very openly affectionate man, but he shows his love for Mo and Miss Lana in the way that he takes care of and protects them.

    Deputy Marla is led astray by her love for Robert Slate when he convinces her to help him get away with the murders and find the bank robbery loot.

  • Lies and Deceit

    Even though there are lots of wonderful and caring characters in Three Times Lucky, Mo also comes in contact with some pretty shady people. At first Deputy Marla seems nice and helpful, but then it turns out that she's in cahoots with Robert Slate and has been lying to them all along. Ugh. And even though Dale is a good kid, he tells a few whoppers of his own, especially when it comes to stealing Mr. Jesse's boat. And these lies come back to bite him in the butt when Mr. Jesse shows up murdered in that very same boat.

    Then again, what did we expect? This book is a murder mystery, after all, so of course there's lying and deceit in the mix.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. Why does the Colonel lie about when he bought his car? Like, seriously—what's up with that?
    2. Why do you think Deputy Marla decided to work with Robert Slate? Why doesn't Detective Starr smell a rat?
    3. Is Dale a good liar? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    We'd say this book is steadfastly anti-lying, except things work out pretty well for Dale.

    The most successful lie in the whole book is when Deputy Marla shrewdly wins Mo's trust by offering to help her find her upstream mother.

  • Justice and Judgment

    The whole arc of the story in Three Times Lucky depends on chasing down a murderer and bringing him to justice. Detective Starr has come to town to find the murderer (because it's his job), but Mo and her best friend Dale are also interested in solving the mystery—especially after the murderer kidnaps Mo's beloved Miss Lana. Together they find clues, discover lies, and track down the murderer before he can hurt the people they love. It's a pretty satisfying end to a murder mystery.

    Questions About Justice and Judgment

    1. Why does Mo decide to trust Deputy Marla? How about other characters?
    2. Is it totally cool that Dale never gets in trouble for deceiving Mr. Jesse? Why or why not?
    3. What do you make of the Colonel's hatred for lawyers? What does this tell you about justice?

    Chew on This

    The reason the Colonel hates lawyers so much is that he knows their job is to help their clients, not necessarily pursue justice.

    After years of abusing his lovely family, Mr. Macon finally gets what he deserves when Miss Rose and Dale stand up to him and he's arrested for aiding a criminal.

  • Truth

    In Three Times Lucky, Mo is trying to figure out the truth about several mysteries in her life. She wants to know who killed Mr. Jesse, what the Colonel's deal is, and who her birth mother is. These are some pretty tall orders, right? Through plenty of detective work and a bit of luck, Mo learns that Robert Slate killed Mr. Jesse and that the Colonel was the lawyer who represented Mr. Slate. She still doesn't know about her birth mother, but by the end, she decides that she doesn't care all that much anyway since she has all the family she needs right in Tupelo Landing.

    Questions About Truth

    1. What's up with the Colonel's memory loss? Is it real? Is it possible it's just a defense mechanism to protect himself from the ugly truth about his own past? Turn to the text for support.
    2. Does Mo come to a kind of truth about family over the course of the book? If so, how might she define it? If not, what does this tell you about her relationship with the Colonel and Miss Lana?
    3. Does Dale avoid the truth? If so, when? Are there any patterns, and if there are, what do they tell you about his relationship to the truth?

    Chew on This

    When Miss Lana tells the whole town about how she and the Colonel came to Tupelo Landing, she gets applause instead of anger because they recognize the bravery in telling the truth.

    Every bit of truth in this book is preceded by a lie.

  • Memory and the Past

    In Three Times Lucky, Mo is preoccupied with the past and the events that brought her and the Colonel to Tupelo Landing. As for the Colonel, dude doesn't even remember his life before he got here—everything from before the car accident that led him to finding Mo floating in the creek is just gone. Mo pours over what little memories they have and reads newspaper accounts from that time period to understand more about their shared origins, but in the end, though she learns about how the Colonel came to Tupelo Landing, she ultimately realizes that it doesn't matter. What matters is the life they've all built together. The past is irrelevant.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. Why doesn't Miss Lana tell the Colonel about his past? What impact does this have on him, and what happens when he finally remembers?
    2. Why does Mo keep carrying around old newspaper clippings from when she was found as a baby? What do they offer her? Are there ways in which they hold her back?
    3. What is Miss Lana's relationship to the past? How does this affect her life in the present?

    Chew on This

    It isn't until Mo lets go of the past that she's able to see just how much she has in the present.

    Miss Lana might think she's protecting the Colonel by not cluing him into his past, but the truth is that he can't really move past it until he confronts it head on.

  • Identity

    Because she washed up on the shores of Tupelo Landing as a baby, Mo in Three Times Lucky struggles with her identity and figuring out where she really belongs. Everyone in Tupelo Landing treats her like one of their own (with the exception of Anna Celeste and her mean family), but Mo still feels like maybe she doesn't belong here, and maybe she needs to find her birth parents. Eventually she realizes that Miss Lana, the Colonel, and all of her friends in Tupelo Landing are all she needs, though, and that she's just as integral to the community as the people who were born there.

    Questions About Identity

    1. Why does Anna Celeste's family care so much about Mo's origins? What does this tell you about them?
    2. Are Mo and the Colonel treated like outsiders? Why or why not? Remember to give evidence from the book.
    3. What does Mo think will change for her if she finds her "real" mother? Do you think she's right? Why or why not?
    4. Why is Mo working on an autobiography?

    Chew on This

    Mo has a super strong personality, but she still suffers with self-doubt and confusion about her identity because she doesn't know where she comes from.

    Miss Lana constantly changes into different wigs and outfits—not because she doesn't have a strong sense of her identity, but because she knows herself well enough to be able to play with her appearance and reflect different parts of herself.

  • Perseverance

    If there's one thing that Mo learns from her guardians in Three Times Lucky, it's to never give up. She's a scrappy little girl who soldiers on despite the odds, and even when the Colonel and Miss Lana go missing, Mo doesn't hide away in fear and despair. Instead she goes out there and braves a storm in order to track down a known killer. And the people she surrounds herself with have this same fighting spirit. Dale follows her everywhere and doesn't back down, and even though Miss Rose is a real Southern lady, she musters up the courage to leave her mean husband and start her own small business.

    In Tupelo Landing, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. Why doesn't Mo stay put after the Colonel and Miss Lana disappear? What motivates her? How does Mo take after Miss Lana and the Colonel? Give evidence from the book, pretty please.
    2. Is Dale really a coward like his father says? Why or why not?
    3. How is Miss Rose a stronger person than Mr. Macon?

    Chew on This

    Miss Lana and the Colonel might both be perseverant, but Mo's perseverance is an intrinsic part of her. How else do you explain a baby surviving on a raft in a hurricane?

    Mo doesn't like Detective Starr when he first blows into Tupelo Landing because they are too similar. They're both determined, stubborn, and willing to do anything to solve this crime.