If you’re tired of girly protagonists who are more concerned about boys and clothes than finding themselves, you need you some Dicey. If you're ready for a healthy dose of stubborn will, you need you some Dicey. Most of all, if you want to get to know a girl who knows how to take care of herself, you need you some Dicey.
She’s one of the toughest YA heroines ever—she wears boys’ clothes, she restores her own sailboat, boat, and, oh yeah, she leads her three younger siblings from Provincetown, MA to Crisville, MD after her mother was committed to a mental hospital. Did we mention she was only thirteen years old?
Seriously, Dicey's Song won the 1983 Newbery Medal for a reason: it's a beautifully kickbutt story about learning to trust, learning to accept friendship, and finding your true family. And, oh yeah, boat restoration.
Dicey's Song is the second book in Cynthia Voigt’s seven-book Tillerman Cycle. Voigt spent the '80s with the Tillermans, producing a bunch of books about the Tillerman family (Dicey included) and all the people who are important to them. According to Voigt, you can read 'em in any order, and we agree. Dicey's Song is a great intro to the Tillermans and their saga, because Dicey's got such spunk. You'll dig her journey and strength, and you’ll probably want to pass this book on to every tough, unconventional young girl you know.
Even though Dicey’s Song takes place in 1982, back in the olden days when phones were attached to walls and people listened to music on cassette tapes, it’s still totally relatable to teenagers today. Here’s why: her family struggles with many of the same things families today struggle with, like poverty.
Being poor is like an anchor around the Tillermans’ necks, and it weighs down every aspect of their lives. Not only does Gram have to take welfare to raise her grandchildren, she and Dicey have to watch Dicey’s mom (Gram’s daughter), Liza, die in a public mental institution, where she’s little more than a charity case—a number on a chart.
Being broke is rotten even for a tough chick like Dicey, who has had to devote her life to taking care of other people. Her mother’s mental illness, which Dicey believes was caused by constantly worrying about money, led Liza to abandon Dicey and her siblings Sammy, James, and Maybeth in a mall parking lot in Massachusetts. Because she had no other choice, Dicey led the younger kids to Gram’s house in Maryland, on foot, feeding them stale bread to keep them alive.
Even after finding solace with Gram, Dicey still worries that they’ll lose their home because Gram can’t afford to keep them. These aren’t things a 13-year-old should have to worry about, but lack of money means a whole set of worries most kids will never know. Dicey has to grow up way before her time, while learning how to be a sister and a mother, all at the same time.
If you feel the same, whether you’ve ever been poor or not, you’ll feel a bond with Dicey, one of the most unconventional YA heroines ever. And that, if nothing else, is the reason you should care—not just about Dicey, but also about yourself and your future.