When I read Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky (my thoughts), I went in expecting not to like it due to my overwhelming dislike for quirky southern books, particularly ones that take place in the state I've lived the most years of my life. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it and it overcame almost all my qualms. It was with no hesitation at all that I picked up a copy of the follow up, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, at ALA Midwinter. It has all the charm of the first book and does it all even better.
When Miss Lana makes an Accidental Bid at the Tupelo auction and winds up the mortified owner of an old inn, she doesn't realize there's a ghost in the fine print. Naturally, Desperado Detective Agency (aka Mo and Dale) opens a paranormal division to solve the mystery of the ghost's identity. They've got to figure out who the ghost is so they can interview it for their history assignment (extra credit). But Mo and Dale start to realize that the Inn isn't the only haunted place in Tupelo Landing. People can also be haunted by their own past. As Mo and Dale handily track down the truth about the ghost (with some help from the new kid in town), they discover the truth about a great many other people, too.
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing has so many aspects I look for in a good story: mystery, an old house to explore, old secrets, family history, friendship, and strong characters. Mo's voice, already the greatest strength of Three Times Lucky, is even stronger and more assured in this book, as though Turngage grew completely comfortable with her character and let her take completely over as she was writing. I appreciate how true to their age Mo, Dale, and all their classmates are. I recognize the kids I know in them. I further appreciate the friendship between Mo and Dale and how solid it is. As they are dealing with the fall out of the events in the last book, particularly Dale's father being in jail, this is brought out fully. Mo and her big mouth make all sorts of mistakes, but Dale forgives her (eventually). Mo is learning too, which is always a wonderful aspect of characterization to see. She actually realizes when she has gone too far sometimes, and even manages to hold herself back at points. The kids relationships with the adults in the community are highlighted well too. They are working on a history project where they have to interview an older member of the community and this brings in history, but also demonstrates the importance of these generational relationships and knowing your own story. I like how Mo firmly feels a part of this community and family created around her. She still writes to her upstream mother, and she still has moments she wonders about where she comes from, but mostly she is living where she is. Harm is a new student and character introduced in this book. I throughly enjoyed the addition he made to the Mo/Dale dynamic, how he changed it. It was an interesting look at how jumping to conclusions about a person is an injustice, and how friendships can grow and change to incorporate new people and relationship dynamics.
The mystery aspect of this story fascinated more than in the last too. As a kid, I loved stories that explored the past of a certain place and how it connected with current characters lives. I still love those stories as an adult, and this one is executed well. It focuses mostly on the kids and their immediate problems, and the mystery itself focuses on children. The ghost is the same age as the characters making it infinitely interesting to readers. As an adult reader, I would not have minded if the ghosts in the title had been completely metaphorical, but I know my students would not agree. If they are promised a ghost, they want a ghost. And Turnage delivers a wonderful ghost, complete with chilling disembodied laughter, freezing spells, flickering lights, slamming doors, and visions of scenes past. Yet the story isn't creepy so even sensitive readers can enjoy it. It is full of humor and the charm that is Mo herself. The imagery is perfect. Descriptions are short and snappy yet full of wonderful similes that readers will understand, be able to picture perfectly, and find amusing. The writing is jus top notch.
I can't wait to book talk it. I have so many pages marked with passages that I love and that will be sure to capture interest.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Kathy Dawson Books, at ALA Midwinter. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing will be in stores on February 4th.