Dysfunctional families and learning disabilities: Cynthia Voight’s Tillerman books

I didn’t get around to reading these tween/YA books until I was in library school; I was a little old for them when they first came out and too ‘grown’ to be seen in the teen section at the time.

In Homecoming, Dicey’s mother leaves her four children alone in a car outside a mall; when the mall closes and their mother has not returned, Dicey realizes they are on their own. The children must make their way to the only relative of whom they’re aware, a great-aunt in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with no way of notifying the aunt that they’re coming or what has happened, and not enough money to buy food and lodging on the way, much less four bus tickets. Not surprisingly, their arrival in Bridgeport comes as an unpleasant surprise to both the Tillermans and their relatives there: their great-aunt has died and the great-aunt’s daughter takes them in out of obligation…but the siblings soon find this an unworkable situation and they set out for their mother’s mother’s house in Maryland. She reluctantly takes them in, having come to appreciate her solitary life but believing family obligations to be more important.

In Dicey’s Song, the five are learning to deal with each other, and their new household. Not surprisingly, all five are having trouble: the grandmother must swallow her pride and apply for welfare, Dicey must learn to relinquish responsibility after a summer and a lifetime of holding the family together, Maybeth, the third child, is struggling with third grade academically but has found her gift in music but Sammy, the youngest, isn’t fighting–as a tough hot-tempered child, his seeming angelic behavior worries Dicey and their grandmother. The book’s denouement comes just before Christmas, with the grandmother’s discovery of her daughter’s/the children’s mother’s whereabouts; she takes Dicey with her to learn more of the

Dicey’s Song is the sequel to Homecoming, but both can be read independently of each other. All standard disclaimers apply–I’m not the target audience for starters–but these two books strike me as realistic novels, not saccharine, but then again with nothing I’d hesitate to show a tween reader (or a younger one! this might do for good readers in the elementary grades) Homecoming struck me as unrealistic in much the same way as My Side of the Mountain; why are none of the adults these children come into contact with notifying the authorities that there are one/four runaway children? That said, it makes a fun (for those of us reading it from the comfort of our armchairs) quick coming of age story about four kids in a situation that would be a nightmare if we were actually stuck in it ourselves. Dicey’s Song is a bit more realistic, but I’m not sure how exciting the tween readers today will find either story. That said, the ending of Dicey’s Song reduces me to tears Every.Single.Time. and I’m not ashamed to admit it.


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