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.
If you want to be blown away by how many books Cynthia Voigt has written (and she’s still writing), check out her official website.
TV Tropes and Idioms
Even though it’s not a TV show, Dicey’s Song is full of figurative standards. Don’t know what that means? Click here, then explore more of your favorite books and movies.
Although Dicey’s Song was never a movie, the first book in the Tillerman Cycle, Homecoming, was. Made for TV in 1996, it starred the legendary Anne Bancroft as Gram and Kimberlee Peterson as Dicey.
Cynthia Voigt Scholastic Interview
This site's got it all: tons of interviews, including kids’ questions.
Christian Science Monitor Interview with Cynthia Voigt
This interview's full of fun tidbits, like the fact that when Voigt won the Newbery, her kids were 12 and 5 years old. They traveled by train from Maryland to Los Angeles for the medal ceremony.
How does the movie-Dicey stack up against the book version?
Interview with Cynthia Voigt
Of course she lives by the sea.
Jodi Benson reads Dicey aloud in this audiobook so you can rest your weary eyes.
Check out what the creator of the Tillermans looks like today.
The Original Cover
That's a classic '80s haircut for you.