Dicey’s Song

9780786262885-us-300

NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER – 1983

Dicey’s Song

by Cynthia Voigt

Age: 12+

Interests: family, siblings, strong girls, friendship, poverty, orphans, mental illness

Random House: 1982

211 pages

Full series of books about the Tillermans: Homecoming, Dicey’s Song, A Solitary Blue, The Runner, Come a Stranger, Sons From Afar, Seventeen Against the Dealer

This is the second book in the “Tillerman Cycle” about four siblings – Dicey (13), James (10), Maybeth (9), and Sammy (6) – their struggles with poverty and abandonment. In the first book “Homecoming” their mentally ill mother abruptly leaves them in a parking lot and they set out on their own to find surviving relatives to live with. In this book they have settled in with their grandmother and are having troubles adjusting to a ‘regular’ life. Dicey in particular has trouble just being a kid again after having to look after her younger siblings through their travels and tribulations. She is surly, stubborn, combative, guarded, and suspicious of others. It takes real effort on the part of a couple of schoolmates to convince her to lower her defenses enough to be friends.

Surviving rather meagerly on social assistance, Dicey discovers that their grandmother is considered a real eccentric in the town, and her stubborn refusal to accept help has estranged her from past acquaintances. It was only with great reluctance that she even took the children in, though now she has warmed to them and is doing her best to provide them with a good home. The main lesson she is learning, and passing on to Dicey, is that when people reach out to you, you should respond with an open hand instead of a fist, and Dicey is trying hard to live that way. When they receive word that her mother, long catatonic in a psychiatric hospital, does not have long to live, Dicey and her grandmother travel to be with her in her final hours. Unable to afford a burial, they arrange to have her cremated and bring her ashes home.

It reads a little like a Depression-era hard luck story, but these books are actually set in the early 1980s. Dicey is a thoughtful observer, displaying great insight about others, even though she keeps them at arm’s length. Her grandmother, after years of a difficult marriage, and a hermit-like widowhood, is travelling the same road as Dicey – learning how to interact with others and allow herself to be open and vulnerable. This novel delivers some thoughtful and nuanced lessons on why people do the things they do, what they feel deep down, and what they need to be content. The thoughtful reader will certainly be able to make connections with their own experiences, and may be able to look at ‘difficult personalities’ they know in a more empathetic light.

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.