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Literature / The Tillerman Family Series

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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.
  • Big Eater:
    • James, in Homecoming. He's always hungry and eats more than all his siblings — it's pretty common for Dicey to be extra worried about food for him because he never seems to get full. Later in the series, this trait is downplayed to the point of vanishing completely.
    • 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.
  • Birds of a Feather: Dicey and Abigail. Both of them are stubborn and hard to open up but are fiercely devoted to their family and the few, but close, friends that they make. They do clash often because of this but they also know that they can trust each other for important things.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Jeff's mother, Melody, acts like a sweet and loving woman to her son but she clearly prides herself and her savior complex over wanting to be a wife and mother. When it's revealed that she's just a selfish runabout who refuses to be responsible, her true colors start showing to turn her into a rather nasty person.
  • 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 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.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "Good-o!" Sammy's standard expression when he likes something. Dicey borrows it a couple of times.
    • "It's still true." James's first words of the day, reflecting on their current situation without their Momma.
    • "I know what you're thinking." Abigail when Dicey is lost in thought and rightfully predicts just what she's thinking.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Don't Split Us Up: The whole reason the children refused to go to the police after their mother disappeared.
  • Due to the Dead: Abigail and Dicey find a nice box in which to put Liza's remains.
  • Gold Digger: In A Solitary Blue, Jeff's mother, Melody, makes it abundantly clear that she wants to be the one that inherits all the money from her rich grandmother since she feels she's "owed" this despite the woman having raised her. In a delightful twist of irony, Gambo ends up making Jeff her heir but still gives Melody the ring that she wanted.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • 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.
  • It's All About Me: 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.
  • One-Word Title: Event Title: Homecoming, the first installment. It details the siblings' summer of trials and tribulations before they finally meet their maternal grandmother.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Bullet (Samuel) and Liza (Elizabeth) are rarely referred to by their real or full names with Liza's full name only being mentioned in the family Bible in Dicey's Song. There's also the younger Sammy (Samuel) as well as the deceased Aunt Cilla (Priscilla) who also follow this trope.
  • 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. Mina says bluntly that Dicey wouldn't copy an essay out of a book because she doesn't care what people think, and she's not a liar. The teacher apologizes, but Dicey at first is hurt that her own mother was considered a character in a story.
  • 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.
  • Raised by Grandmother: The Tillerman siblings, post-Homecoming.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Diceys Song