Gem has never known what it is to have security. She’s never known an adult she can truly rely on. But the one constant in her life has been Dixie. Gem grew up taking care of her sister when no one else could: not their mother, whose issues make it hard for her to keep food on the table, and definitely not their father, whose intermittent presence is the only thing worse than his frequent absence. Even as Gem and Dixie have grown apart, they’ve always had each other.
When their dad returns home for the first time in years and tries to insert himself back into their lives, Gem finds herself with an unexpected opportunity: three days with Dixie—on their own in Seattle and beyond. But this short trip soon becomes something more, as Gem discovers that that to save herself, she may have to sever the one bond she’s tried so hard to keep.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Drugs; Underage drinking
Booklist starred (December 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 8))
Grades 9-12. Though she does reasonably well in school and stays out of trouble, Gem doesn’t have it easy. She is constantly on her mother’s case to be a more responsible parent, which puts her at odds with her sister, Dixie, who enables their mother in more ways than one. When their estranged dad shows up, Dixie is enchanted and Gem is wary, but when they discover a backpack full of money he’s left in their room, Gem and Dixie ditch their phones, run away, and spend a few days—and a few thousand dollars—figuring out what to do next. But will the money really provide Gem the independence she so desperately craves? In this illuminating, graceful novel, Zarr demonstrates how privation can reverberate through many areas of a teen’s life, and nicely emphasizes that problems don’t need to be violent or catastrophic in order for one to ask for help (which, thankfully, Gem eventually does). In addition to the powerful portrayal of poverty, Zarr teases out a moving story of sisters navigating their relationship. In Gem’s measured, worried voice, readers will discover a gulf of difference, even resentment, between the sisters, as well as a deep, affectionate solidarity in their unique circumstances. With a vivid, well-rounded cast of characters, including the adults, and a poignant portrayal of family dynamics, Zarr’s frank, resonant story is both bittersweet and triumphant.
Kirkus Reviews starred (February 1, 2017)
Two sisters attempt to sort out their relationship, which is badly strained by years of living with their troubled and neglectful parents. Seventeen-year-old Gem struggles to get enough to eat each day, eventually resorting to bumming spare change off other students at her Seattle high school. Meanwhile, her 14-year-old sister, Dixie, for whom Gem served as protector when they were younger, is able to charm and flirt her way into free sandwiches, cellphones, and more. Despite their drastic outward differences, neither has any sense of safety or well-being in their tenuous living situation with their mom, who, like their absent dad, battles a substance-use disorder. When their dad suddenly returns, their lives are upended yet again, and a situation arises in which both sisters face many hard decisions. Tough, earnest, angry Gem narrates in a matter-of-fact, confessional tone, filling in the heartbreaking back story of her poor, white family in a pair of brief essays she writes at the behest of her school’s kind, supportive psychologist. Gem’s prickly, agonizingly real internal monologues quickly bring readers into her corner, and her messy, layered interactions with Dixie are heart-wrenching. As the unpredictable turns of events progress, Gem’s quietly growing convictions about her own future are hard-won and nuanced. A poignant and smart family drama with broad appeal. (Fiction. 14 & up)
About the Author
Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of five novels for young adults, most recently The Lucy Variations, and co-author with Tara Altebrando of Roomies. She’s a National Book Award finalist and two-time Utah Book Award winner. Her novels have been variously named to annual best books lists of the American Library Association, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, the Guardian, the New York Public Library, and the Los Angeles Public Library and have been translated into many languages. She is a MacDowell Colony Fellow and has served as a judge for the National Book Awards. Sara lives in Salt Lake City with her husband.
Her website is www.sarazarr.com.
Around the Web
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Gem & Dixie Publisher Page