The story is set in the early 1980s in Crisfield, Maryland, a small town on the Chesapeake Bay. The town has one main street, but the business district is on the outskirts. Dicey bicycles to work at the small grocery store located on the main street and near the water. Her grandmother travels by motorboat to do the shopping.

Most of the action takes place on "Gram's" rundown farm on the bay. Seven miles from town, the shabby farmhouse has plenty of space, including large bedrooms, a warm kitchen, a comfortable living room, a seldom-used dining room, and a tempting attic. A timeworn barn provides a workshop for repairs and fascinating nooks for the children to investigate. The spacious farm lands also invite exploration, with fields of pines, a vegetable garden, marshes composed of tall grasses, and a dock on the water.

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Literary Qualities

Voigt employs strong characterization and eloquent language in this novel. Through her precise, plain-spoken narrative, the author brings her characters to life, smoothly integrating each character's distinct qualities and growth into the plot.

Dicey's character is the most fully developed; the third-person narrator relates Dicey's experiences and also explores her writing, thoughts, and deepest feelings. Before the first chapter commences, the story begins inside Dicey's mind with a description of her thoughts as she stands in the moonlight, reflecting on the summer. Rather than providing a nutshell characterization of Dicey, Voigt allows her to slowly emerge through these inward glimpses and through Dicey's conversations and interactions with others.

Gram's character is also strongly developed, though the reader never sees her inner thoughts. Her presence balances the story; because she provides matriarchal authority and nurturing, Dicey's responsibilities are lessened, and she is free to be the child she is. As the relationship between Gram and Dicey grows progressively closer, Voigt depicts the other Tillerman children gravitating toward a more unified family structure.

Evocative imagery of the quiet town and the solitary marshes sets the reflective tone of the novel, and Voigt uses the setting to symbolize her themes. As the story begins, for example, Dicey is trying to fix her broken sailboat and longs to sail by herself on...

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Social Sensitivity

Although this book does not sensationalize socially sensitive issues, the death of Dicey's mother may cause some concern. Gram's uncommunicative manner during crises, the actualities of cremation, as well as the reality of the medical staffs attitudes might be problematic. But Voigt provides a very heart-warming, sympathetic portrayal of real-life occurrences that is appropriate, even necessary, to the theme.

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Topics for Discussion

1. Discuss the setting of the story. How important is it? How much do we learn about the town and its people?

2. What are the major and minor themes of this book? How does Voigt develop these themes?

3. The first sentence of chapter 1 is "AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER." Why do you think the author begins the book in this way? Does this reflect on the theme of the story? How?

4. Compare Dicey's relationship with Gram at the start of the book with their relationship at the end. At what point do you sense a change? Why? How are they alike? How are they different?

5. What feelings motivate Dicey to act aloof at school? Do any of the other characters possess these same feelings? Who? What makes you think so? Describe specific incidents that support your opinion.

6. Gram and Dicey make an unplanned trip. Where do they go? Why? What happens when they get there?

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Compare the life the Tillerman children lived with their mother with the one they live with their grandmother. Give reasons for the similarities and differences.

2. Discuss the ending of the story in relation to the first sentence of chapter 1. Include an evaluation of whether this ending is logical in terms of what precedes it.

3. Of what significance is the boat that Dicey is repairing? Why doesn't she want Sammy to help her? Why is she annoyed that Jeff sees her with the boat during his surprise visit? Why does she finally allow Sammy to work on it?

4. Discuss the stages of Dicey's friendship with Mina. What is Dicey's first reaction to Mina? What qualities does Dicey admire in her? What qualities does she dislike?

5. How is the Tillerman family similar to your family? How is it different? Which family member is the most interesting to you? Why? Which one is the most like you? In what ways?

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Related Titles / Adaptations

Voigt has written six novels that deal with the Tillerman family. In Homecoming Dicey leads the abandoned Tillerman children to their grandmother's home, where Dicey's Song takes place. The third book in the series, A Solitary Blue, focuses on Jeff Greene, a minor character in Dicey's Song. Mina Smith, another secondary character in Dicey's Song, narrates Come a Stranger. The Runner is about Bullet Tillerman, Dicey's uncle, and Sons from Afar is about Dicey's brothers' search for their father.

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For Further Reference

Commire, Anne, ed. Something about the Author. Vol. 48. Detroit: Gale Research, 1987. Provides biographical data on Voigt, who gives conversational descriptions of her personal and professional accomplishments.

Locher, Frances C., ed. Contemporary Authors. Vol. 106. Detroit: Gale Research, 1982. Gives highlights of Voigt's personal and career life.

Shaw-Eagle, Joanna. "Cynthia Voigt: Family Comes First." Christian Science Monitor (May 13, 1983). This interview with the author reveals her personal priorities and characteristics.

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