Oh. My. Lanta. How do you not fall in love with Mo? She is hands-down my favorite character of the year: lively, loving, tough, and witty. I’ve laughed-till-I-cried many times
during these books, and Mo’s narration is the reason. Everyone and everything is colored by the way she sees the world (a kind of optimistic realism), even when that leads the reader astray. If she hates someone, you hate them. If she runs with an idea (i.e. shenanigan), you’re cheering her on.
Turnage’s descriptions of people through Mo’s eyes are especially brilliant. Contrast someone she adores:
Lavender is tall and hound-dog skinny. He wears his hair combed up in front, like he’s speeding through life. […] Lavender’s handsome in the Nascar way, and if I was old enough I’d snatch him up and marry him before sundown. (Three Times Lucky, 42)
Lavender has eyes blue as October’s sky and hair like just-mown wheat. He’s wiry and tall, and flows like a lullaby. (Ghosts, 22)
Versus someone she’s wary of:
From a distance, I didn’t like him. Up close, I liked him less. Black hair, thin face, mole under his left eye. Scuffed black shoes, cheap clothes put together to look like money. He walked up lanky as a coyote, his shoulders slopping a modicum to the left. (Ghosts, 14)
Can you hear the tone shift? This girl wears her heart on her sleeve. And those similes (“flows like a lullaby” vs “lanky as a coyote”) are poignant and magical.
Oh man, her similes…Turnage packs in a lot of zingy similes, but I think what makes them especially clever is how she takes a common image and makes its specific to Mo’s world:
Dale jumped like Queen Elizabeth spotting a squirrel. (Ghosts, 19)
Mr. Red simmered like the Colonel’s sauce pot. (Ghosts, 208)
Children interpret the world through what they already know, and this is a clever way to expand a simple simile that also adds to world-building.
But my favorite parts of the Mo & Dale mysteries are the cafe scenes. Balancing a large number of characters within a scene is hard. Everyone needs a dialogue or action tag so you know who’s speaking, and it can easily turn into a jumpy, awkward mess. The cafe is often full of colorful characters, who all want to throw in their opinion, but these scenes are important because they often drop clues or foreshadowing (and often pull-a-muscle-laughing-hilarious).
Turnage keeps things lively and manageable by grouping characters together (usually two or three) and progressing through the groups as Mo takes orders and sleuths, occasionally throwing in a character from a previous group for a quick aside. This way you get the impression of a large crowd, but the reader is never too crowded for comfort – controlled chaos that packs a hefty punch of character development. Though too long to quote here, check out chapter one of Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, or better yet, read the whole book. I dare you not to get sucked into Tupelo Landing. (Though, really, go start with Three Times Lucky and come thank me later.)
Now to get my hands on The Odds of Getting Even…