Study Guide

Tar Beach

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.

  • Detailed Summary

    • Cassie remembers flying above George Washington Bridge. You know, in the sky. As you do.
    • At what point in her life is she remembering this? Unclear.
    • From the sky, Cassie Lightfoot can see the rooftop where her family's hanging out. There's Mommy, Daddy, and Be Be, her little bro.
    • Also there: Mr. and Mrs. Honey. Hey guys.
    • Cassie calls her rooftop Tar Beach. You know, cause it's black. Also, it's nighttime.
    • A sunless beach? Is Cassie…goth? Her cute colorful dress and hair bows are not giving off goth vibes, though.
    • Tar Beach is a super special place for Cassie. She loves looking out at the skyscrapers and pretending like she owns them.
    • She also owns the George Washington Bridge, apparently. This kid is richer than Jay-Z.
    • Cassie tells us she was born in 1931. Good to know.
    • Her dad helped build the George Washington Bridge, which opened in 1931. Also good to know.
    • Did we mention Cassie loves the bridge? Cause she really loves this bridge.
    • A couple more fun facts about Cassie: she's eight years old and in the third grade.
    • Her dad is a construction worker. He's really great at his job. He helped build the George Washington Bridge, after all.
    • Even though he's employee of the month, Daddy can't join the union. They say it's because his father wasn't a member.
    • Cassie decides she's going to "buy" the building by flying over it. Then she can give it to her dad. Cass, that's not how money works.
    • Cassie has at least three good reasons she wants to give her dad the building. One: he'll have a job. Two: He'll come home. Three: Mommy will stop crying.
    • Oh yeah, looks like Daddy left home. For good.
    • Cassie very reasonably decides she wants to have ice cream for dinner every night, so she flies over the ice cream factory. We like the way she thinks.
    • In the evening, Cassie and her family are going to Tar Beach. Mr. and Mrs. Honey are coming, too.
    • Wait, is Daddy really back? Probably not. This night at Tar Beach might be in Cassie's imagination.
    • When the stars come out, Cassie's going to fly to the union building. She's going to take her little bro, so he doesn't tell on her.
    • Cassie tells Be Be that anyone can fly.