1983: Dicey’s Song (where shopping is the best therapy)

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 4/5

In Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt, one family learns what it means to hold onto the past while simultaneously letting go and looking to the future. When Dicey and her three siblings are abandoned, they move in with their grandmother and have trouble adapting to living in a new home.

Dicey Tillerman is only thirteen, but she has the weight of the world on her shoulders. Unsure of whether she can trust her grandmother to look after her siblings, Dicey takes on the responsibility of a part time job in order to take care of her family. Her maturity was refreshing to read about and while she was a fairly adult character, she still learns some lessons throughout the book as she grows up. More akin to a tomboy than a proper girl of the time, she doesn’t stress over how she looks and doesn’t care for manners; her strength of character shines through in her actions and mood swings. She learns through trial and error, though, that there is more than one way to contribute to a good life – whether it’s through helping build a boat, planning the family meals, or learning to sew an apron.

The secondary characters were comprised of some interesting personalities, as well. Dicey befriends Mina, a smart and thoughtful African American girl who goes to school with her, and Mr. Lingerle, the elementary school music teacher who begins to teach her younger sister how to play the piano. Her younger sister struggles with learning to read, and there’s an interesting chapter in which several character’s debate how to help her. Much of the story is about how the family must reach out to others for help, even though Dicey would prefer to be self-sufficient and keep to herself.

While this novel is a follow up to Homecoming, it’s not necessary to read the prequel. Things from the past are alluded to, but the climax of the book, which deals with Dicey’s absent mother who is in a psychiatric hospital, still hits all the relevant points to give it a strong ending (which features an emotional shopping trip) even without really knowing what happened before.

As coming of age novels go, Dicey’s Song featured a cast of strong main characters and a well-thought out story while bringing up some interesting themes that are not always covered in young adult literature. Its only downfall was that it was a bit slow at times, but every moment gracefully builds up to a moving finale. I would definitely recommend this for people who are looking for a meaningful and emotional read.

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