If ever there was a book that proves that families come in all shapes and sizes, it’s Dicey’s Song. Just because Dicey and her siblings lost their parents doesn’t mean they can’t create a new family on their own. It may seem like a big cliché, but it’s true anyway: love is what really makes a family, no matter how messy things get.
Mr. Lingerle is the saddest character in the book, because he clearly lacks a family of his own.
It's only after Gram officially adopts her that Dicey slowly starts reaching out and making friends. She needs to know she has a stable home with a trustworthy adult before she can start trusting others.
All four of the Tillerman kids are struggling with friends school, and identity, either because they’re smart (James), timid (Sammy), learning-disabled (Maybeth), or, like our heroine, grouchy about having to take home ec instead of mechanical drawing. If you’re older than thirteen, you’ll probably look back on that time and give thanks it's all over while reading Dicey’s Song. If you’re still in junior high, trust Shmoop: it won’t be this awful and awkward forever.
Dicey doesn't want to grow up because she's afraid that in doing so, she'll be betraying the memory of her mother.
Dicey's Song shows us that adults come of age, too. Just look at how far Gram and Mr. Lingerle come by the end of the novel.
Dicey’s Song isn’t all boats and aprons and piano lessons; there’s a dying, mentally ill mother hovering in the background the whole time. Although we never find out the specific mental illness from which Dicey’s mom suffers, it seems to be something like catatonic depression. In other words, she’s so depressed she can’t move, and spends her days lying in bed staring at the wall. When she dies, it’s one of the saddest moments in YA lit, but luckily Dicey has Gram, her siblings, and a new life in a new state to keep her from falling apart.
The book connects Momma's mental illness with their poverty, which isn't quite fair. It's clear from the beginning that she's sick, which has nothing to do with how much money she's got in the bank.
The real fear Dicey experiences in the novel is that she, or her siblings, will end up just like their mother.
Poverty wears on Dicey and her family like nothing else in the novel. Throughout Dicey's Song, our heroine implies that they lost their mother to poverty, and are in danger of losing each other to poverty, too. Nevertheless, with Gram's help, the family manages to trudge through the difficult times, and to accept help when it's offered by kind friends.
Momma’s life might have had a much different outcome if she’d been wealthy.
Pride is more dangerous than poverty, and that's a lesson Gram sorely needs to learn.
Home means a lot more to you when you’ve spent time without one. If you haven’t read Homecoming, the first book in the Tillerman Cycle, here’s what happens: Momma drives her old car to a mall in Connecticut, gets out, leaves the kids waiting, and never comes back. We won’t ruin it for you, but Gram’s not the first relative the Tillerman tykes try to move in with. So when Gram adopts them and gives them a home, it’s a huge deal for the kiddos. Going back to school, taking piano lessons, having a real Thanksgiving dinner, getting new clothes—these are things most kids in America take for granted, but for Dicey's Song just having a roof over their heads is a wonder.
Dicey doesn't want to go up to the attic because she's afraid that it will remind her of the home she has lost, and threaten the home she's building.
Dicey has such a problem feeling at home because she knows that she'll be picking up and leaving it soon enough. After all, there are only five years left until college.
Dicey is all about rebelling against traditional women’s roles, which is one of the many things that make her an awesome YA heroine. There’s a reason Dicey’s Song is still being read more than 30 years after publication: we can all relate to her, even the non-girly girls among us. No matter what pressures she experiences, she stays true to herself, refusing along the way to conform to what society tells her a girl should be.
Dicey doesn't seem to notice she's a girl, because it makes no difference to her. Yet.
Dicey already knows motherhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. After all, she’s had to take care of her three younger siblings, so the idea’s not as romantic to her.
Dicey's a hard girl to get to know, which makes it all the more impressive that, by the end of the novel, she's racked up a fair few friends in Mina, Jeff, and even Mr. Lingerle. Throughout Dicey's Song, while she tries to drop friendship like a bad habit, folks like Mina push right back, and break down the barriers Dicey has walled around herself. And thanks to friends like Mina, Dicey learns that friendship really is all it's cracked up to be. After all, who doesn't want to be a part of a Mutual Admiration Society every now and then?
Having friends is one more way for Dicey to become anchored to Crisfield and make it her home.
Dicey pushes friends away because she's afraid of getting hurt.
It’s time for some real talk: there are some seriously whack educators at the Tillermans' school. Mr. Chappelle accuses the best writer in his class of plagiarism, James’s teacher doesn’t challenge him at all, and Maybeth’s teacher insists that Maybeth keep trying to read through memorization, even though it isn’t working. And don't even get us started on Miss Eversleigh. At least there’s Mr. Lingerle, who may just be saving Maybeth’s life by giving her piano lessons. In Dicey's Song, the true educators are the ones who let you realize your full potential, rather than try to fit you into a box.
Dicey learns that in the end, the only teacher you can rely on is yourself.
What makes Miss Eversleigh a bad teacher is not the fact that she teaches girls girly stuff, but the fact that she's so cruel while she's at it.