Recently, Sam and I were talking about music, and which genres we like enough to tolerate mediocrity. For him, it's Euro girl pop - he loves Girls Aloud and Kate Ryan, but he'll listen to any pale imitation thereof. For me, I can tolerate just about any run-of-the-mill world music darkwave, though Dead Can Dance will always be tops. Conversely, we each enjoy the best examples of each other's favorite genres, but the imitators leave us cold.
Does that make sense? Good. Because I think it comes into play in literature as well.
Jonathan Hunt described Three Times Lucky as part of the "Spunky/Feisty/Charming Heroine with a Southern/Country/Folksy Voice with a Dead/Missing/Absent Mother genre." Y'all, that is a genre that leaves me cold as a li'l ole' glass of sweet tea under a live oak on a hot summer's day. I love Because of Winn-Dixie because it is a brilliant and beautiful book, but I doubt that I could name a lesser member of the genre that I can even tolerate. I prefer my Southern fiction sad and dreamy, like Missing May.
And yet, The Spindlers (a solid but undazzling example of the Girl Travels to Underground Fantasy World, Meets Weird Inhabitants, and Saves the Day genre*) is one of my favorite books of the year.
This is all to say that I am not the right reader for Three Times Lucky. The characters, voice, and tone all made my eyeballs want to explode. That being said, it's a perfectly solid book. I agree with Monica Edinger that Dale's family is particularly well-drawn. The setting is well-realized (though I'd rather go hungry than eat PBJ and Mountain Dew for breakfast, those kinds of details do set a good scene). The plotting is pretty good, if a bit meandering.
Still, even if I put on my eyeglasses of objectivity, I don't see anything here that elevates it to Newbery status. Some people are saying it's honor-worthy, but I disagree. I think it'll just hang around in the crowd of perfectly good, workaday, 2012 middle grade novels. Like The Spindlers.
*A genre Sam loathes, by the way. As he told me after I read him the first few pages of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, he can't deal with any book that makes use of the phrase "ever so." Frightfully short-sighted of him.