Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Tillerman Family Series

Go To
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:
  1. Homecoming, the first installment, details their summer of trials and tribulations before they finally meet their maternal grandmother.
  2. Dicey's Song, the second book, picks up shortly after and is mostly about the children's adjustment to life in Maryland.
  3. A Solitary Blue briefly breaks away from the Tillermans; it's the backstory of Dicey's love interest Jeff.
  4. 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.
  5. Come a Stranger is about Wilhemina Smiths, Dicey's best friend.
  6. Sons from Afar focuses on Dicey's brothers James and Sammy, and their attempts to find their missing biological father.
  7. Seventeen Against the Dealer is the final installment, in which the focus returns to Dicey.

Dicey's Song won a Newbery Medal, and Homecoming was adapted into a Made-for-TV Movie starring Anne Bancroft.

This series contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: John Tillerman Sr.
  • Adults Are Useless: The Tillerman kids initially believe a variant of this. In their minds, all adults who don't know them well will try to split them up, or at least won't understand what they need. Thus they, especially Dicey, feel they must look out for themselves even after adults take on roles in their lives.
  • 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).
  • Big Eater:
    • James, especially in Homecoming. Of the four Tillerman siblings, he's by far the biggest eater, the first one to get hungry and the last one to be full. The trait is toned down for subesquent books, probably because when food is plentiful his appetite is far less of a problem.
    • Advertisement:
    • Subverted, then double subverted, with Maybeth's music teacher, Isaac Lingerele. He's obese, so the kids naturally expect him to eat a lot when he comes for dinner, but he just picks at his food. When Sammy points this out, much to his Gram and siblings' chagrin, Isaac explains that eating in front of others makes him nervous, so when he's a guest, he nibbles. Then he goes home and stuffs himself. It's a bit of a Tear Jerker when you think about it.
  • Black Best Friend: Wilhemina "Mina" Smiths, who is the closest the series has to a Genki Girl, becomes this to Dicey in Dicey's Song. Dicey, who isn't used to the idea of being close to anyone outside the family, takes a while to realize that Mina actually wants to be friends; especially since Mina already has lots of friends.
  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • Break the Cutie: Liza. She grew up listening to her parents fight constantly, the guy she loved ended up being an untrustworthy Jerkass 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.
  • Broken Bird: Abigail Tillerman.
  • Broken Pedestal: Jeff suffers this with his mother Melody when she reveals the sweet, sunny, loving woman he pledged his devotion to is a selfish runabout.
  • 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.
  • Catch Phrase: "Good-o!" Sammy's standard expression when he likes something.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: In Dicey's Song, which did win a Newbery, Liza eventually dies after lying catatonic in a hospital for a long time.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen:
    • Dicey, in Dicey's Song. The Tillerman siblings 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 Crisfield, 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.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
    • Choleric: Dicey
    • Phlegmatic: James
    • Melancholic/Supine: Maybeth
    • Sanguine: Sammy
  • 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.
  • Gut Feeling: Maybeth struggles academically to the point where she's labeled an idiot by the meaner outsiders and a Brainless Beauty by the more forgiving ones — but she's an almost infallible judge of character who can tell within minutes of meeting someone whether they can be trusted or not. She seems mildly surprised when Dicey points out that most people can't.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Maybeth has blonde hair, and when you get past her shyness she's probably the sweetest and kindest of the Tillerman children.
  • 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.
    • Jeff Greene, after a fight with his mother that reveals her true, selfish nature. He's so depressed he stops going to school and his father ultimately moves them to Anapolis to get him a fresh start.
  • 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.
  • Huge Schoolgirl: Mina Smiths, who looks much older than she is because she's so tall and curvy.
  • It's All About Me:
    • Eunice Logan. She appears generous to take the children in after they suddenly arrive on her doorstep, but it's telling that in the first conversation she has with the children, she's incapable of talking about anything or anyone other than herself. As they stay with her, it becomes clear she's accepted them 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.
    • Melody Boudrault, Jeff's mother, qualifies as this. Despite her constant chatter about wanting to make the world a better place it's clear her motives are selfish, that she just wants to feel like she alone is making a difference even if it means abandoning her husband and son. She displays a lot of this during Jeff's second visit to Charleston, causing him to snap and her to hurt him so badly he suffers a Heroic BSoD for several chapters.
  • 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.
  • Mama's Boy:
    • Jeff, as a child and an early teenager. It doesn't end well.
    • Sammy in Homecoming and Dicey's Song. Justified because he's six. This doesn't go well either; Dicey observes that when Sammy and Momma interact, they sound like two six-year-olds talking, not a six-year-old and his mom.
  • Noodle Incident: At the beginning of Sons from Afar James reveals that he's lost a finger at some point between this story and Dicey's Song. It is never revealed how this happened, though it's implied to be a recent event.
  • 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.
  • Out of Focus: Maybeth in Seventeen Against the Dealer. Somewhat justified in that the main plot concerns Dicey, but at that point we hadn't seen her much since Dicey's Song, (she appears in Sons From Afar, but only in a secondary role). This trope leaves a lot of unanswered questions about Maybeth, such as how or if she continued to cope with school and if her musical talents blossomed into anything significant. It doesn't help that out of the four Tillermans, Maybeth is the only one without a plot focused on her at all.
  • 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.
  • Precocious Crush: In Come a Stranger, Mina Smiths had one on Tamer Shipp, a young minister visiting her church for a summer.
  • 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.
  • Raised by Grandmother: The Tillerman siblings, post-Homecoming.
  • 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.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Liza only appears on the first page of Homecoming, but her leaving is what drives the entire story. In both Dicey's Song and The Runner she never appears on-page but her absence is heavily felt.
  • 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.
  • The Talk: Abigail tries to give Dicey The Talk in Dicey's Song. Dicey is relieved to tell her that she already knows about sex... and then she realizes what that sounds like and spends a few flustered moments explaining that she hasn't had sex.
  • Turn Out Like His Father: A variant with Maybeth. Of the four Tillerman siblings, Maybeth is the most like their mother, and Dicey and James do on occasion worry that she might end up just like Liza — unable to cope with the world. Luckily, as she gets older, she doesn't seem to be heading down that path.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: At the end of Dicey's Song, there's mention of Abigail's oldest son John Jr. and the possibility of getting into contact with him in the future. This plot point is never brought up in any subsequent books focusing on the family.
  • 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.
    • Mina Smiths, when introduced in Dicey's Song is a Huge Schoolgirl who's Dicey's age, but looks a lot older thanks to being tall and buxom. Dicey thinks she looks about eighteen, while Mina herself half-jokingly says she could easily be mistaken for being a woman of thirty with kids of her own.

Alternative Title(s): Diceys Song


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: