Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

This novel is about the Tillerman children's struggle to survive and find happiness in the face of poverty, death, and an unfamiliar environment. Its theme revolves around the Tillermans' adjustment to their new circumstances and their interaction with individuals from the community. Each family member experiences emotional growth, but the story focuses on Dicey and her development.

The oldest of the Tillermans, thirteen-year-old Dicey is mature, resourceful, and self-reliant. Highly intelligent and confident of her abilities, she has developed impressive problem-solving skills. Her straightforward approach to problems reflects her direct, though guarded, approach to relationships with outsiders.

Dicey works tirelessly in her role as surrogate mother to her siblings. James, the second oldest Tillerman, is brilliant but hides his intellect at school in order to win peer acceptance. Once a loner who spent all his time reading books, he has learned to value companionship and establishing friendships since coming to live with Gram. He has a pleasant personality but leaves all the work and worry to Dicey.

The two youngest Tillermans are Maybeth and Sammy. Pretty and blond, with hazel eyes, Maybeth is a cheerful, warm-hearted third-grader. She suffers from a learning disability but possesses musical talent and works long and hard to conquer her learning problems. Sammy has a round, fair face and, like Maybeth, resembles his mother....

(The entire section is 443 words.)