by Cynthia Voigt
Dicey’s Song is all family, all the time. Dicey and her siblings are in an unusual family situation, in that their father left a long time ago, their mother abandoned them and is now dying, and they’re living with their widowed grandmother.
Those challenges mean that small family moments are big deals to them, like Gram attending their parent-teacher conferences, giving Maybeth piano lessons, and cooking them Thanksgiving dinner. Dicey’s struggle to let Gram in and allow her to take over the care of Sammy, James, and Maybeth, which was previously Dicey’s responsibility, is a major undercurrent of the storyline, and reveals a lot about who Dicey is beneath that cool surface.
When Dicey realizes that T-shirts don’t sufficiently cover her chest anymore, Gram alters a few button-down men’s shirts for her. She pulls coats down from the attic for the children, knits them sweaters, visits Dicey’s school to see what the other girls are wearing, and when she realizes none of the others are living in cut-off shorts, she takes Dicey shopping for jeans , dresses, and a bra. For Dicey, her changing wardrobe is all about the fact that she's growing up.
For other characters, clothes can indicate their status. The narrator mentions the holes in Momma’s sweaters, indicating her poverty. Likewise with Gram, when we learn that she has only one pair of shoes that she saves for winter, going barefoot all summer. When Gram alters one of her own shirts to make a party dress for Maybeth, Maybeth feels like a princess, twirling around the living room.
Sammy’s always been a fighter, but Gram’s teacher tells her Sammy is behaving like a perfect angel in school. While this might seem like a positive thing, Sammy eventually tells Dicey that he’s trying to change his personality because he feels guilty over not being well behaved enough for Momma. He eventually gives in to his urge to fight, however, when the other kids tease him about his lack of strength and his family.
James, too, fights his true nature by hiding his intelligence in class so he can fit in better with the other kids. He goes so far as to write a second, less eloquent report about the pilgrims.
We see Dicey avoiding having friends by hopping on her bike and taking off when people try to get close to her. When she finally calls Mina to thank her for standing up for her in class, it’s a major moment of transformation. We see that Dicey is both reclusive and self-sufficient in her restoration of the boat in Gram’s shed.