A series of YA novels by Cynthia Voigt, mainly focused on a young girl named Dicey as she tries to keep herself and her younger brothers and sister alive, sane and together after their mother abandons them. The series consists of the following books:
Homecoming, the first installment, details their summer of trials and tribulations before they finally meet their maternal grandmother.
Dicey's Song, the second book, picks up shortly after and is mostly about the children's adjustment to life in Maryland.
A Solitary Blue briefly breaks away from the Tillermans; it's the backstory of Dicey's love interest Jeff.
The Runner goes back in time to tell the story of Dicey's deceased Uncle Bullet as a teenager and shed some light on grandmother Abigail's life as a wife and mother.
Come a Stranger is about Wilhelmina Smiths, Dicey's best friend.
Sons from Afar focuses on Dicey's brothers James and Sammy, and their attempts to find their missing biological father.
Seventeen Against the Dealer is the final installment, in which the focus returns to Dicey.
Berserk Button: Sammy does not like it if his family is insulted. He gets into a lot of fights over this. Dicey too fought a lot when she was younger, over the same reasons, but when she gets older she's better at controlling herself (she still gets angry, mind, she just doesn't get physical).
Brainless Beauty: Maybeth, the prettiest of the Tillerman siblings, undeservedly has this reputation; her learning difficulties combined with her crippling shyness means that she does poorly in school and is labeled "stupid" by teachers and kids alike. During the children's stay with Cousin Eunice, Eunice and her friends also unintentionally build up under the "brainless beauty" image by treating Maybeth as little more than a pretty doll, causing her to withdraw further into herself and resemble more and more the empty-headed doll she's being treated as.
Break the Cutie: Liza. She grew up listening to her parents fight constantly, the guy she loved ended up being an untrustworthy Jerk Ass who abandoned her and her kids, and all her efforts to keep her head above water did was drive her into a catatonic state and eventually kill her.
Cassandra Truth: A variant occurs in Dicey's Song, when one of Dicey's home economics assignments is to plan a meal for a family of four for fifty dollars. Remembering how she had to provide for herself and her siblings during Homecoming, Dicey lists the kind of food they ate that summer: soup, peanut butter, bread, milk, fruit — and when she still has $30 left, she adds extra treats like half-price doughnuts and chicken wings. Her teacher gives Dicey an F and informs her that "nobody could live for long on meals like this." Dicey angrily considers telling her the entire story, but quickly decides not to bother.
Defrosting Ice Queen: Dicey, in Dicey's Song. The Tillerman simblings never had close friends when growing up, and though Maybeth is starting to come out of her shell, and even James and Sammy begin to make friends in Cripsfield, Dicey is reluctant to let anyone get too close to her. She doesn't respond well to Mina and Jeff's repeated attempts to reach out to her, and doesn't even quite get that Mina wants to be friends until Mina spells it out for her. A huge part of her Character Development is learning how to open up and accept other people's friendship.
This development is mirrored almost exactly in Abigail, who has been the freaky town original for years and closed herself off from everyone, but after she accepts her grandchildren she begins reaching out and becoming less of a loner.
Denied Food as Punishment: Abigail tries to invoke this after Sammy comes in late from riding his bike, but Dicey tells her it's pointless because the children already know how it feels to go hungry.
Determinator: Dicey. She shepherds the other three children (aged 10, 9, and 6) from Pawcatuk, Connecticut to Bridgeport— about 80 miles— on foot, finds places to sleep and ways to earn money, to keep her family together. She's only 13.
Don't Split Us Up: The whole reason the children refused to go to the police after their mother disappeared.
The Glorious War of Brotherly Rivalry: In Sons from Afar. Sammy is the popular jock, James is the insecure intellectual. This serves to create friction between them throughout most of the story. Avoided with Dicey and Maybeth.
Heroic BSOD: We don't get to see the moment it happens, or the event that triggers it, but Liza is apparently hit by one at the beginning of Homecoming, which causes her to abandon her children. She is later found in a hospital, completely catatonic, and she never recovers.
The Tillerman siblings almost succumb to this several times during their journey in Homecoming; Dicey at one point (when reaching a river they have no hope of crossing) sits down and just waits for the end — and James, Maybeth and Sammy gradually let fatigue, hunger, bad weather and awful walks along heavy traffic reduce them to apathetic zombies. Luckily, every time the kids are about to give up and despair completely, something positive happens that gives them strength to carry on.
Hidden Depths: Just about every single character in the series, to some degree. One of the central themes, especially in Dicey's Song is that nobody is exactly who he or she appears to be on the surface.
It's All About Me: Eunice Logan. She appears generous to take the children in after they suddenly arrive on her doorstep, but then it becomes clear she's doing it just so everyone will think she did the right thing. Worse, she makes her plans to separate the children crystal clear despite Dicey explicitly telling her that's the one thing they're trying to avoid! She even says Sammy must be kept in line because his behavior "shames her" rather than for his own welfare. Dicey ultimately makes the right choice by packing up and getting out of there.
Loners Are Freaks: The Tillermans, at first. It's definitely clearest with Abigail, who's an extremely solitary person and not very highly thought of as a result — but the rest of the family are also loners who don't really have friends and are viewed as strange. During Dicey's Song they all gradually open up more and start befriending more people.
Older Than They Look: Tamer Shipp in The Runner goes to high school with Bullet, but is also a husband and a father.
Fifteen-year-old James, in Sons From Afar, is described as looking younger than he really is. This is played up in contrast to twelve-year-old Sammy, who looks older than he is.
Parental Abandonment: First their father up and ditches the family while their mother is pregnant with youngest child Sammy, then years later she runs away herself after a life of hardship drives her to the brink of insanity. Jeff's backstory also includes a Missing Mom and a distant father (though his father does get better).
Plagiarism In Fiction: In Dicey's Song, Dicey writes a class essay about her mother, and is accused of this because it's too good; her friendship with Mina begins when Mina defends her.
P.O.V. Sequel: A Solitary Blue and Come a Stranger depict some of the events of earlier books from Jeff's and Mina's perspectives.
Promotion to Parent: Dicey in Homecoming. She gets so used to taking care of her siblings that it's hard to step back from the role once they move in with their grandmother.
Shrinking Violet: Maybeth, to the point where in Homecoming she's mistaken for mentally retarded due to her silence.
Simpleminded Wisdom: Mille Tydings, Abigail's oldest acquaintance. Slow of mind and slow of speech, with no head for numbers or reading, Abigail sums her up in Dicey's Song as stupid and incapable of thought, and Dicey isn't impressed with her either — but as both Dicey and Abigail eventually learn, it turns out that Millie can be very insightful and understands people better than most.
The Smart Guy: James is without a doubt the most intelligent of the Tillerman siblings and is always curious and eager to learn more. At times, especially in Homecoming, he can come across as a Know-Nothing Know-It-All, but then he's only ten years old at this point.
Younger Than They Look: Isaac Lingerle, Maybeth's piano teacher, is 28 years old, but his obesity and the fact that he's already going bald make him appear much older.
Sammy, in Sons from Afar is twelve years old, but looks older thanks to his stocky, athletic build and the fact that he's tall for his age.