Study Guide

Tar Beach Summary

By Faith Ringgold

Tar Beach Summary

Welcome to Tar Beach, where the sand is more of a flat black area and the ocean is…well, there is no ocean. There's also no sunbathing, because Tar Beach only opens after the sun goes down.

See, the thing about Tar Beach is that it's not a beach at all—it's actually the rooftop of the apartment building where eight-year-old Cassie Lightfoot lives with her fam. They call it Tar Beach because they like to go there to relax during the summer.

Best. Staycation. Ever.

While Mommy and Daddy drink beer and play cards with the neighbors (hi, Mr. and Mrs. Honey!), Cassie chills with her little brother Be Be on their roof mattress. What is a roof mattress, you ask? Well, it's a mattress that they keep on the roof.

Often, while she's lying on her mattress, Cassie likes to look up at the stars. Sometimes the stars reach down and lift her up into the dark, and then she's flying through the New York City sky. One important note: Cassie's not really flying. She just has a very active imagination.

Tar Beach isn't a story where regular events happen in order. It's more like a bunch of childhood memories combined with dreams. Cassie combines her real history with her fantasies to give us a sense of what her life was like when she was a child. Every now and again, she hints that there was trouble in paradise. Daddy had trouble getting work—so much so, that he eventually left the family, and never came home.

Probably. The thing is, Cassie jumps back into dreamland, so it's hard to tell exactly what happened.