Study Guide

Homecoming Youth

By Cynthia Voigt

Youth

"I don't trust anyone," Dicey said. "It's what you said, kids have no rights. So we have to be extra careful."

"Why don't kids have any rights?" James asked.

"Because parents own them," Louis answered quickly. "Your parents can beat you, steal your money, decide not to take you to a doctor—anything they want."

"There's a law I have to go to school," James said. "That's a right, isn't it?"

"If you look at it that way."

"They couldn't kill me," James continued. "That would be murder."

"If it could be proved." (1.5.90-100)

Louis doesn't have much love for parents, does he? James is rightly suspicious of his claims—parents can't do anything to children, can they? Well, their mother did abandon them, so maybe anything can happen to kids.

Never mind even the way forward, you couldn't get food without money and they had none.

Kids just couldn't earn money.

She had, yesterday. She had earned seventy-five cents in all. They could eat something today, if they had seventy-five cents now. (1.6.120-122)

Dicey is operating in a world that just isn't set up for kids. She can't get a real job, but she can do odd jobs to earn a little extra money—as long as she's careful.

"Don't be sorry—I feel so sorry for you—I don't understand what has happened—"

"Neither do we," Dicey answered.

"How could you? You're only children." (1.9.98-100)

After all these kids have been through, Cousin Eunice is pretty content to just write them off. They're only children, after all, so how can they possibly understand this crazy world? Hey, lady, they were just walking around this crazy world by themselves for days, so maybe you should give them the benefit of the doubt.

"There's a television in my bedroom you can watch. As long as you don't play in there. Children like watching television, don't they?" (1.10.195)

Okay, this lady is not going to work out. Cousin Eunice says over and over again that she doesn't have any clue what kids are like. Why doesn't she try having a little bit of empathy? After all, she was a kid once, right?

I think you must give some thought to adoption and foster homes. Sammy, despite his behavior, may prove the easiest to find a home for. It will be hard to place Maybeth. A retarded child—"

"She's not!"

"She has the symptoms," Father Joseph answered gently. "And you, an older child. You also would be hard to place. Your cousin—I don't know what her plans are now."

Dicey had no idea what he was talking about. She shrugged her shoulders.

"James also is old for adoption, but he would easily find a permanent home here at the school, or he might stay with one of our families. His academic promise makes him most desirable."

Dicey could think of nothing to say. "You should think of these things," Father said, still gently. "I know you don't want to, but you must think them through and be ready. Think of yourself also. You are still a child yourself."

A child? Dicey felt a hundred years old. Or more. (1.11.75-81)

This is harsh reality that Dicey has to face. The Tillermans are only kids and, as kids, they have to have adults in their lives. The easiest thing for the adults, though, would be to split them up—and Dicey is determined to keep her family together.

Dicey nodded to show she understood, and she thought she did understand what he had said. She was too young to be a girlfriend. Her cheeks grew warm with the thought. Of course she was, much too young, and besides, she had more important things to do. (2.3.122)

In an ironic moment, we see that Dicey is too young to date, yet she's old enough to travel by herself with three other little kids searching for a home. If that doesn't make it clear that she's been thrown from childhood into adulthood at a young age, then we don't know what does.

"Do you think we're like most of the kids over here, in the way we look?" Dicey asked.

"Natural camouflage," James said.

Dicey looked at them. They were all tan, and her day in the sun yesterday had caught her up in brownness for what she'd lost during hours inside at Bridgeport. Their hair was scruffy, and Maybeth's curls looked tangled. But they didn't look out of place, or unusual. They looked like kids running a little wild during the summer. (2.4.111-113)

This is actually a good thing. The Tillermans just look like dirty little kids running around during summertime—that's why people aren't bothering them. They blend in and no one thinks they're in any kind of trouble.

Finally, James broke the silence. "She probably figured she could be angry and mean to us and get away with it," he said. "Because we're kids."

"She didn't get away with it," Dicey reminded him. (2.4.168-169)

The "she" in this quote is Claire. She shoos the kids out of the circus tent and James reflects on the injustice of it all. People can pretty much treat kids any way they want to, and it doesn't seem to matter much.

Their grandmother had stood silent in the doorway while he told it. "You're not helpless infants," she remarked. (2.9.102)

You've got that right, Abigail. Finally, someone realizes what these little kids have been through instead of babying them and trying to take control of them like grown ups love to do.

Why did every adult send kids away from the table? Maybe because nobody sent <em>them</em> to bed hungry. Maybe they'd forgotten what hungry was. But it wasn't right. Dicey knew what hungry was, and so did Sammy. (2.10.95)

Being a kid is a double whammy sometimes: Not only can adults deprive you of food, but if you're left to fend for yourself, it can also be pretty hard to get food in the first place. No rest for the weary, as the saying goes—or not good for the hungry, as the case may be.

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