Chapter 1 Summary

Thirteen-year-old Dicey Tillerman knows something about responsibility. Her father disappeared when she was only seven, leaving her fragile mother overwhelmed by the daunting task of providing for four young children on her own. Their tiny, ramshackle house on the dunes in Provincetown, Massachusetts had been filled with love, but not much else, and the challenges had finally grown to be too much for Liza Tillerman. Early this past summer, she had abandoned her family at a Connecticut shopping mall, and now lies in a catatonic state in a Boston hospital, lost to the children, "maybe forever."

It was Dicey who had brought her siblings—serious and cerebral ten-year-old James, quiet nine-year-old Maybeth, and tempestuous, almost-seven-year-old Sammy—on a journey of hundreds of miles that finally ended at a dilapidated farmhouse near Crisfield, Maryland. The Tillerman children have finally found a home with their feisty, no-nonsense grandmother Abigail Tillerman, whose character has notoriously "sharp corners and unexpected turns." The farmhouse is commodious, but it will be no small task to keep everyone fed and clothed; fortunately, the young Tillermans are used to chipping in and working hard. In addition, the children and their grandmother will need to get to know each other, to learn to become a family. In these first days, Dicey and Gram especially have been treading softly, tempering their mutually outspoken natures to establish an atmosphere of cooperation, sensitivity, and acceptance.

Dicey secures a job at her first opportunity, convincing Millie Tydings, the hapless owner of the local grocery store, into hiring her. With the money she will earn, Dicey decides that each of the Tillerman children will have an allowance of a dollar a week, with the remaining money going to Gram. The children are ecstatic when Dicey announces her plan, but Gram pointedly says, "I always thought, if you were a family, you talked over your plans first...just to check in." Uncannily perceptive, Maybeth immediately senses Dicey's anger at her grandmother's reaction, and interjects softly, "I'm proud of Dicey." Gram concurs and says that she has something she'd like to talk about too. Much as...

(The entire section is 899 words.)