Saturday, April 12, 2014

Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt

Let me start with the information that can put certain readers off: Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt is not new; it was first published in 1981. It is a young adult novel; the POV character is a 13-year-old girl. There is no sex, no real violence, and no villains, vampires, zombies, or supernatural beings. Still interested?

Homecoming is still in print. It is (my opinion) an engaging, entirely plausible story that holds the reader's attention (this reader's attention) from page 1 to page 372. (Did I mention that it's a thick book, but one you don't want to end?)

In the book's third paragraph, the mother of Dicey Tiillerman, 13; James, 11; Maybeth, 9; and Sammy, 6, tells the children to be good and to listen to Dicey. She walks away from their old car and disappears into the crowd at a Peewauket, RI, shopping mall. Their father had walked out on their mother shortly after Sammy's birth and the family had been living in what sounds like a shack on Cape Cod. When their mother lost her job, she decided to take the children to their wealthy aunt in Bridgeport, but, we readers come to realize, she breaks down entirely in Peewauket and abandons her children.

I think that Voigt did something very, very difficult. She managed to create four children, all individual (Dicey is the resourceful one, James the smart one, Maybeth the shy, silent one, Sammy the stubborn one), put them in an extraordinary situation, and have them behave the way I am willing to believe these children would act in the circumstances.

Once Dicey realizes they've been abandoned—their mother has vanished and she's not coming back—she decides they will walk to Bridgeport to the aunt's house. Perhaps they'll find their mother already there. They have hardly any money (obtaining money is a recurring and realistic thread throughout the book), and the distance does not look so far on a road map. The first half of the book covers the children's adventures on the road and what happens when they actually reach their aunt's Bridgeport house. It is hardly a spoiler to tell you that the house is not the refuge the children had expected. Nor is it the hell another writer might have created. Voigt is too subtle and the situation is in some ways worse because it is so credible.

The challenges the children meet and the way they overcome them (or not) are all believable. They meet real dangers including well-meaning people who would, in fact, cause them harm. They also meet decent people who help them. In a way, I am sorry I could not have read Homecoming when I was a young teen because I would have known children just like Dicey, James, Maybeth, and Sammy and would have been reading the book under my covers with a flashlight because I didn't want to leave their company. Nevertheless, even as an adult I'm glad a friend recommended it and I did not simply dismiss it as being for kids.

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