by Sheila Turnage
read by Michal Friedman
Penguin Audio, 2012
My colleague Luke recently posted about Marcelo in the Real World, 2010 Schneider Award winner, paying particular attention to the audio version. I, too, am busy listening to award-winning titles, and find myself charmed by Michal Friedman’s reading of Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.
Audiobook evaluation can be a tricky business, and this title makes for a nice case study. One of the stickier wickets has to do with separating the quality of the reading and the production from the quality of the source material. As far as the quality of the source material here, we have the endorsement of the 2013 Newbery Committee, who chose Three Times Lucky as one of their Honor Books (and I’m more than happy to throw my enthusiastic appreciation into the pot).
Then there’s the question of artistic interpretation. Set in fictional Tupelo Landing, NC, the book features a cast of honest, sometimes quixotic characters, drawn with the thick outline of bigger-than-life eccentricity. Turnage is a native of North Carolina herself. She chronicles the outlandish, small-town behavior of the inhabitants of Tupelo Landing with a generous, colorful twang and Friedman captures the cadence of the language and the integrity of the characters in her spirited reading.
The story features a few mysteries playing out on different levels: Mo and her friend Dale are “assisting” the police with a murder investigation; Mo is searching for her own mother, who left her drifting down a river in a basket (Mo is short for Moses); and the reader is busy puzzling out the truth about Mo’s adopted family, The Colonel and Miss Lana, and their own mysterious behavior. Friedman’s narration manages a sharp intensity that maintains all of that suspense without ever puncturing the delicate humor.
As far as the production values, there is much to celebrate here. The source material comes easily divided into chapters of manageable size, and are broken into tracks accordingly. The sound is crisp, clean and consistent, without any audible hissing, muddiness, or variations in the voice reproduction. There is nothing to notice here, and that’s just as it should be.
My one quibble would be with the application of southern accents. While Turnage’s language feels authentic, Friedman’s North Carolina drawl has a few consistency issues. I can’t speak to the authenticity of the North Carolina accent in general, but I don’t think it unreasonable to expect one character to pronounce another character’s name consistently throughout. The cadence feels genuine, though, and beautifully captures the essential nature of the characters. And Mo’s first person narrative, even with the pronunciation lapses, is remarkably and genuinely childlike, in a refreshing and indelible way. So, my quibble is just that, and nothing more.
At the end of the day I look for an audiobook that adds something to the experience that I can’t bring to it myself, reading in my head, and in that regard this one scores right off the charts. Give it a listen and tell me what you think!