Dicey's Song

( 80 )


The four Tillerman children finally have a home at their grandmother's rundown farm on the Maryland shore. It's what Dicey has dreamed of for her three younger siblings, but after watching over the others for so long, it's hard to let go. Who is Dicey, if she's no longer the caretaker for her family?

Dicey finds herself in new friends, in a growing relationship with her grandmother, and in the satisfaction of refinishing the old boat she found in the barn. Then, as Dicey ...

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Dicey's Song

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The four Tillerman children finally have a home at their grandmother's rundown farm on the Maryland shore. It's what Dicey has dreamed of for her three younger siblings, but after watching over the others for so long, it's hard to let go. Who is Dicey, if she's no longer the caretaker for her family?

Dicey finds herself in new friends, in a growing relationship with her grandmother, and in the satisfaction of refinishing the old boat she found in the barn. Then, as Dicey experiences the trials and pleasures of making a new life, the past comes back with devastating force, and Dicey learns just how necessary -- and painful -- letting go can be.

Now that the four abandoned Tillerman children are settled in with their grandmother, Dicey finds that their new beginnings require love, trust, humor, and courage.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Holmes and Watson provide the template for this very satisfying historical thriller from Kerr (The Grid, etc.), with Sir Isaac Newton acting as great detective and one Christopher Ellis serving as narrator. It's 1696, and a series of murders are plaguing the Tower of London, where the middle-aged Newton has recently assumed (as in real life) the position of warden of the royal mint, with the younger Ellis (again as in real life) serving as his assistant. Like Holmes, the cold and cerebral Newton relies on rationalism the scientific method to solve the crimes, while Ellis, quick with sword, pistol and temper, brings the emotional counterweight provided by Conan Doyle's Watson. The murders are accompanied by esoteric clues, most notably encrypted messages and alchemical references, that spur Newton to their resolution as forcefully as does his intense sense of duty, for the killings seem to involve not only a plot to disrupt a recoinage necessary to continue England's war with France, but also a conspiracy to commit religious genocide against a backdrop of incessant tensions between Catholics and Protestants. The mystery elements of the novel provide a sturdy spine for the book's main flesh: its robust recreation of life at the end of the 17th century. Ellis's fluid narration sets the tone, illuminating a London beset by pestilence, poverty, whores and ruffians, noblemen grave or foppish, opium dens, brothels and grisly executions, and a bright array of historical figures including, in the role of blackguard, Daniel Defoe. There's an erotic/romantic subplot involving Ellis and Newton's niece, but the main focus is on the two leads. Both are well drawn, though Newton, ostensibly the novel's center, is less compelling than Ellis's full-blooded youth. That disparity, and an overly complex plot, are the drawbacks of what is, withal, a most gripping and well-appointed entertainment. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
In the second book of Voigt's "Tillerman family" cycle, Dicey and her younger brothers and sister settle in with their grandmother on a stark homestead by the Chesapeake Bay. Their mother remains unresponsive in a Boston psychiatric hospital. Dicey is confused about where she fits into the family now that Gram has taken over responsibility for the youngsters, but she soon learns that the family still needs her resourcefulness and solid good sense. Dicey and Gram steady one another as each reaches out, breaking Tillerman tradition. Gram is a hard, proud woman who has lived to regret her isolation and the scattering of her children. Gram makes overtures to town folk and her world expands. Dicey tries to remain aloof at school, but neither Jeff the musician nor the forceful Mina relents until Dicey allows them into her circle of caring. In her spare time, Dicey is restoring a derelict sailboat, meticulously sanding down layers of old paint. Metaphorically, her emotional defenses wear away as she slowly opens to hope, friendship, expressive writing, and finally to an acceptance of her mother's death. When Gram and Dicey bring her mother's ashes home, the broken family is nearly healed. Written in fine, spare prose, this outstanding Newbery Medal winner belongs in every school and community library collection. Readers will be eager to pick up the rest of the series. 2003 (orig. 1982), Aladdin/Simon and Schuster, Ages 10 to 14.
— Ann Philips
Library Journal
There have been many mysteries featuring famous historical figures as protagonists, among them Elliot Roosevelt's crime-solving First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Stephanie Barron's investigative Jane Austen, and Karen Harper's sleuthing Queen Elizabeth I. Now comes Sir Isaac Newton and his assistant, Christopher Ellis (also an actual person). It is 1696 in London, and Ellis has been hired to help Newton in his job as Warden of the Royal Mint. Ordered by the king to find and prosecute counterfeiters whose false coins threaten the war-shaken British economy, the two men get more than they bargained for when they uncover a much more dangerous conspiracy. Plot devices such as secret coded documents, the pseudoscience of alchemy, and a string of strange murders make for an exciting read. Using as backdrop the Tower of London, the Royal Mint, Bedlam madhouse, and Newgate Prison, the ever-versatile Kerr, author of sophisticated science-based thrillers like The Second Angel and Esau, weaves a rich tapestry of interesting characters and period details. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/02.] Fred Gervat, Concordia Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY
The Barnes & Noble Review

"The woman put her sad moon-face in at the window of the car. 'You be good,' she said. 'You hear me? You little ones, mind what Dicey tells you. You hear?' "

"Dicey sat in front. She was thirteen and she read the maps."

Thus begins the first page of several thousand that comprise the seven young adult novels that would become known as the Tillerman Cycle. Dicey Tillerman is the girl in the front seat with the map, though at thirteen, with cropped hair and without "bosoms," she is often mistaken for a boy. This mostly works to her advantage, because the woman with the moon-face — her mother, Liza — is never seen again. The plan had been for Liza to drive her family from their beach shack in the sand dunes of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she can no longer pay the rent, to the house of an allegedly wealthy aunt in Bridgeport, Connecticut, whom the children have never met. Instead, Liza ditches her children in the parking lot of a Connecticut mall. Dicey has eleven dollars and fifty cents, her three small siblings — James, ten; Maybeth, eight; and Sammy, six — and a map.

She decides to walk. Down Route One, across rivers, down the coast, through the Yale campus, the children walk, sleeping in campgrounds and abandoned houses and fishing and clamming and eating stale doughnuts and bruised fruit. When the "wealthy aunt" turns out to be a sour cousin who works in a garment factory and, on the advice of her Catholic priest, decides it best to break up the family, the children take off on foot again, down the coast of Maryland to Crisfield, a tiny coastal town outside Annapolis, to find Liza's mother, whom they have also never met.

This past spring and summer, all seven of the novels in the Tillerman Cycle have been reissued in shiny new hardcover editions, many stamped with the gold and silver award medals that indicate their status as modern classics. Thirty years later, it's striking to realize that the publication dates of these novels — 1981 to 1989 — correspond exactly to the years Ronald Reagan was president. In an era that revered cowboy capitalism and disparaged single mothers, broken homes, and "welfare queens," Cynthia Voigt wrote — and won awards for — novels about poor children, ditched by their unwed mother and saved by two other single women: a thirteen-year-old girl and, eventually, a sixty-something barefoot widow (Ab Tillerman, a.k.a. Gram).

The Tillermans, in many ways, conform to classic American notions of the noble poor: They never borrow money, never take charity (Gram even must be convinced that she has "earned" her Social Security payments), and always work hard at any job — scrubbing windows, delivering newspapers, crabbing — they can find. ("The Tillermans weren't greedy, to be rich or to own things, or to be famous, either," Dicey tells us. "They just wanted to be able to take care of whoever they were supposed to, just to earn a living — because your living wasn't a present, it had to be earned.") They are frugal (they bake their own bread, grow their own vegetables, use dried milk instead of fresh, and commute the ten or so miles to town via bicycle and boat), yet they know what to value (real butter and maple syrup, used sparingly; hand-carved wooden toys over plastic; antique tools; old books).

The Tillermans' fastidious self-reliance is so complete that it verges on the anachronistic — these are people who, in the eighties, consider cars a frivolity — which lends the novels a patina of timelessness and links them to a much older, distinctly American mythology: These children could have made their walk during the Depression, put up preserves with Laura Ingalls Wilder, found themselves in an orphanage with Anne Shirley, or crossed a river with Huck Finn. The songs they sing could come straight from the Alan Lomax American songbook and, for a time, they even take up with the circus. Dicey herself recognizes her affinity with the earliest American immigrants, who came "because they wanted to live and work in a land that civilization hadn't already polished and divided, because they loved wildness and wanted to match themselves up against the wildness and see how they did." You'd probably say that a girl who led three children into the wilds of the Eastern Seaboard and kept them fed and sheltered for two months, using roughly the same methods employed by people centuries before, did pretty well.

This adherence to such narrative archetypes is what gives these stories a surprisingly subversive power. The Tillerman Cycle is an American family epic: the first novel in the series is so clear in its purpose that it is actually called Homecoming. But the richly textured American families described in these novels stand in stark contrast to the rigid definition of "family values" pushed by the dominant politicians of their era. They fight the Catholic Church, in the form of Cousin Eunice and her priest, when those allied forces try to label the children "good" and "bad" and separate them to be adopted. They fight the kids at school, who call them — in an insult that recalls a pre-modern social order — bastards.

Even the name Tillerman, it turns out, comes to the children through matrilineal lines. At first, it seems that the children's father, Francis Verricker — who shows up in a flashback scene with a babe named Honey — just wasn't the marrying kind. But we later realize that the partner who refused marriage was Liza, who didn't like watching what marriage did to her mother and insisted her children carry on her last name. And though Gram points out that she herself was not born a Tillerman — the name belonged to her late husband, John — it is she who gives the children their most distinctive shared feature: their hazel eyes.

Those eyes, with their mixed-up colors, are as good a metaphor as any for a family in which difference, even extreme eccentricity, is frankly celebrated. Dicey's best friend, Mina, describes Dicey as "pretty strong meat," and the same could be said for all Voigt's characters, including Mina herself. Dicey initially describes her grandmother as "a good enemy," which leads her to conclude that "she might make a good friend." Indeed, the two become an astonishingly good parental tag team, skillfully recognizing that James is smart but is terrible at follow-through, or that Maybeth may learn better through pictures and music than books, and resolutely respecting each child's difference. It's pure pleasure to watch them as parents — especially when one steps back and realizes that they are a teenage girl and an aging woman.

From the earliest books in the series, Voigt introduces several black characters, including the man who runs the circus and helps the children, and Mina, one of the best-liked girls in school. Later in the series, Crisfield's racial history becomes much more explicit: The Runner, book number four, takes place in the late sixties and is told from the perspective of the children's uncle, nicknamed Bullet, a high school athlete who died in Vietnam and has explicitly racist attitudes. The next book, Come a Stranger, describes Mina's more subtle experience with racism as the "ex-token black girl" at a ballet camp with rich private school girls, and how she gets back to feeling comfortable being loud and confident taking up space.

The final two novels circle back to the Tillermans. In Sons from Afar, James and Sammy go on a quest for their prodigal father; Seventeen Against the Deale brings all the children to the cusp of adulthood: Dicey, twenty-one and starting her own business as a boat builder; James at Yale; Sammy an athlete; Maybeth singing and baking. Liza Tillerman, as so many mothers in fairy tales, doesn't make it, but her children are satisfyingly intact. They've obviously learned how to survive, but in the final two novels, they do an awful lot of failing, too. Perversely, this seems to underscore their resilience: failure, for a Tillerman, becomes a kind of creative problem solving.

But I'm not so sure about Frankie Verricker. Throughout the series, the children's father shimmers on the edges of the stories, never seen but often described by others: the mother whose daughter he spirited away, the teacher who praised him for his brilliance, the teacher who expelled him for his troublemaking, the women he charmed, the men whose money he stole. By the end of the novels, his children still count him as missing, but if your eyes are sharp enough, you may catch him lurking around the margins toward the end of the series, taking a good long look at what he left behind. In true trickster fashion, he doesn't reveal himself, and none of his children have a full enough description to recognize his character's mug shot. But the reader does. My money says that the prodigal father does return, as an open secret between the author and the diligent reader who has followed his family through seven novels. But he doesn't come for the sons. He knows where to go. He looks for the girl with the map.

Amy Benfer has worked as an editor and staff writer at Salon, Legal Affairs, and Paper magazine. Her reviews and features on books have appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Believer, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times Book Review.

Reviewer: Amy Benfer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442450608
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 3/6/2012
  • Series: Tillerman Cycle Series, #2
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,003,812
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Cynthia Voigt won the Newbery Medal for Dicey’s Song, the Newbery Honor Award for A Solitary Blue, and the National Book Award Honor for Homecoming, all part of the beloved Tillerman cycle. She is also the author of many other celebrated books for middle grade and teen readers, including Izzy, Willy-Nilly and Jackaroo. She was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award in 1995 for her work in literature, and the Katahdin Award in 2004. She lives in Maine.

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Read an Excerpt

Dicey's Song
AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER. Not the Tillermans. Dicey thought. That wasn’t the way things went for the Tillermans, ever. She wasn’t about to let that get her down. She couldn’t let it get her down — that was what had happened to Momma.

Dicey lay on her back under the wide-branched paper mulberry tree. She opened her eyes and looked up. The paper mulberry had broad leaves that made a pool of shade in which she lay. Thick roots spread around her, making a kind of chair for her to lean on. She wore only shorts in the hot midday air. Her arms and chest were spattered and streaked with red paint, and the barn was completely painted, top to bottom, all four sides, patched and painted and looking good. The paint and sweat were drying on Dicey’s body. She could hear the buzzing of insects and nothing else. For once she was alone, but she knew where everybody was.

Gram had taken James downtown in the motorboat. Gram was going to get groceries and James was going to the library to find some books for Dicey, on repairing and maintaining wooden boats. Maybeth was up in her room, doing some of the many extra assignments her teacher gave her, so she could catch up with the rest of the third graders and not be kept back again. Sammy was out back, on the other side of the old farmhouse, spading up fallow land to increase the size of the vegetable garden. Gram had said, right off, that they would have to do more planting next spring than she’d done for years, with four more people to feed. Dicey suspected that Gram hadn’t been sure how the children would feel about the work.

Well, Gram would learn about them. And they would learn about Gram. There would be some surprises for everyone, Dicey guessed. She knew Gram had already been surprised: at Dicey’s reaction when her sailboat — the one she had hoped over and dreamed over — sank into the shallow water by Gram’s dock. Even James was surprised by how calm she stayed, maybe because he had seen Dicey’s face as they hauled it down the quarter-mile path through the marsh, seen her strain and pull and check to be sure the wheels they’d removed from a wagon and fixed to the legs of the sawhorse cradle didn’t fall off, seen how much it mattered to her.

Dicey had watched the water pouring in through the leaks where the boards had shrunk apart with all those years of drying out. She had watched — they had all stood and watched, as the little boat filled up with water and settled quietly down onto the sandy bottom of the Chesapeake Bay.

“I should have remembered,” Gram had said. “I knew, if only I remembered.”

“You can’t sail in that,” Sammy declared.

Dicey had stared down at the chipped paint on the gunwales of the boat, which still showed above the water. The boat was her lucky charm, her rabbit’s foot, her horseshoe, her pot of gold, it was the prize she’d set for herself for leading them from nowhere to somewhere. OK, she said to herself, thinking about what needed to be done. They’d have to bail it before they could get it out of the water. Then they’d have to take it back to the barn. She told James to find something to bail with. They’d have to slide the cradle back into the water, it would probably take all four children to do that.

“You don’t rest a minute, do you,” Gram had said. Dicey shook her head; she had already gotten used to her grandmother’s way of asking questions without question marks. “But you’d do better to let it sit out here a day or so,” Gram had advised. “Let the wood soak up water, to swell up again. I knew that once, but I forgot. I’m sorry, girl,” she said.

Dicey hadn’t answered, just looked at Gram where she stood on the dock with the wind blowing her curly gray hair around her face.

“Dicey doesn’t mind, as long as she knows what to do about things,” Maybeth told Gram.

“Is that right,” Gram asked Dicey.

“I guess so,” Dicey said.

“What do you do when there’s nothing you can do,” Gram said.

“I dunno, I do something else,” Dicey said.

“That doesn’t make sense,” James pointed out. “That’s illogical.”

Gram looked around at all of them.

“Which one of your sons built this boat?” Dicey asked, but Gram had turned away to go back to the house and didn’t answer.

Remembering that scene, Dicey reminded herself that they all had a lot of learning to do. The boat was back in the barn and she had to begin scraping off the old layers of paint. But not quite yet. Gram and James would be back soon, and they’d have lunch, and then Dicey wanted to go downtown to see about a job. She’d been thinking about what kind of job she could get, all those long first three days of school. There wasn’t much else to think about in school. As far as she was concerned, about all school was good for was using up your days. Dicey hadn’t talked to anyone, except to answer teachers’ questions. That was OK with her, because she had important things to think about. Getting a job, to bring in some money was one. Tillermans always needed more money, because there were so many of them to feed. Dicey knew Gram worried about that. For that matter, Dicey worried about that too, and had worried all her life, because at thirteen, she was the oldest. That worry about food had been her single biggest worry all summer long, when they had traveled down here, after Momma disappeared. The other worries — about what James was thinking, because what James thought in his head told him what to do; about whether or not Maybeth was retarded as people claimed, or only shy, slow, and frightened, which was what Dicey thought; about why Sammy was so angry he hit out and didn’t mind how much the person he fought with hurt him; — those worries, and worries about how much Dicey should give up for her brothers and sisters in order to have any kind of home together — or if she was driving them too hard; about how many miles they had covered and where they were ever going — all the other worries had come and gone. The worry about food had haunted her all summer long, and maybe it always would.

There were still things to worry about here, but nothing crucial. James said everything was all right now, now they could live with Gram. James was smart, but he wanted everything to be all right so badly that he couldn’t see —

Couldn’t see what? Dicey asked herself. She hunkered up, resting her back against the tree.

Couldn’t see how big troubles had little beginnings, just like little troubles.

Dicey heard voices approaching the house from behind. Nobody ever came up the front driveway. Gram didn’t have a car and couldn’t drive. She always went downtown in the motorboat. So except for the children’s bicycles, the overgrown tracks that led off from the front of the house, through a stand of pines and between two long barren fields to the road, were unmarked. The voices came clearer.

Lazily, Dicey stood up and went around to help carry in bags of groceries. When she got around back, Sammy had taken the extra bag in his grubby arms. His face appeared at the top, streaked with dirt. Dicey looked at him and grinned, and made a mental note to tell Gram that he was having his seventh birthday next week. James trailed up through the garden, carrying another bag.

“You two are a mess,” Gram announced, before she even went up the back steps. She looked at Dicey and hesitated, as if deciding whether or not to say what she was thinking. “You’re too old to go around half-naked,” she announced.

“What do you mean?” Dicey demanded. “I am not.” Gram was already in the kitchen. “Am I, James?” Dicey asked.

“You know, Dicey,” he said. His eyes shifted away from hers. At ten he was old enough to be embarrassed. He hurried after Gram.

Well, she guessed she did know. She guessed she had noticed when she had stripped off her T-shirt that her breasts seemed to be pointing out — maybe. But she had convinced herself that wasn’t true. Dicey shrugged. There wasn’t much she could do about getting a bosom, but she didn’t have to like it.

Gram made a plate of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and she had put out a bowl of apples. Dicey had washed off most of the paint with turpentine. Then she and Sammy rinsed off with a quick swim, and she had put her shirt on. Sammy’s yellow hair was slicked down.

James was on his third sandwich and Maybeth was still nibbling at her first. “How did it go?” Gram asked. “How many pages did you get read?”

“Four,” Maybeth answered softly, without looking up. “That’s not enough,” she added.

Gram looked at Dicey, and Dicey sighed. “Is the book too hard?” Dicey asked her sister’s bent head. Maybeth’s hair was as bright as sunlight, and she’d tied it back with a red ribbon. “Where’d you find the ribbon?” Dicey asked.

“Gram got it for me,” Maybeth said. She looked up at Dicey then, with a little smile. Dicey liked the way Maybeth looked, like an angel, a Christmas angel. It was partly her wide, hazel eyes and her soft hair that curled gently at the ends; but more, it was the quiet ways she had. “I think it’s pretty.”

“It is,” Dicey assured her. She, herself, like James, had their father’s straight brown hair. Which was about all they had of their father, that and the narrow face; Maybeth and Sammy looked like Momma — round and fair. But Dicey and James were mixes: Yet all the Tillermans had hazel eyes. She couldn’t remember the color of their father’s eyes, or exactly what he looked like; just his voice. Not surprising since she was seven the last time she saw him. “Was the book too hard?” she asked again.

Maybeth shook her head. “I have to keep working, Mrs. Jackson said,” she told Dicey. “Only I can’t remember what the words are, so I have to go back and memorize the lists again. If I work, Mrs. Jackson says, everything will be all right.”

Dicey wanted to cooperate with this Mrs. Jackson. “We’ll do fractions after dinner,” she promised Maybeth, who nodded with no more enthusiasm than Dicey felt. “Is it OK if I go downtown this afternoon?” she asked her grandmother. “The barn is finished,” she added, to distract her grandmother from any question about what Dicey wanted to do in town.

Gram looked as if she knew Dicey wanted to distract her. But she didn’t know why. She decided not to ask. “I’m pleased it’s done,” she said.

“You don’t sound pleased,” Sammy pointed out.

“Appearances,” Gram declared, “can be deceiving.”

Sammy thought about that. “Why?” he asked.

Gram snorted. “Because you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

“Why not?” Sammy wondered.

DICEY HAD DECIDED to ask Millie Tydings, who owned the little grocery store down by the water at the foot of the one main street, if she had a job open. The store wasn’t ever busy, at least not ever when Dicey was in there. She wondered if anybody besides Gram shopped there, and she couldn’t blame them. Millie didn’t keep the windows or floors particularly clean. Dust gathered on the cans and boxes on unwashed shelves. The meat and fish counter, behind which Millie worked most of the time, got wiped down every day, Dicey guessed from the way the white enamel gleamed. Millie might be lazy, she might just be too tired (and Dicey guessed if she had to tote that body around every day, all day long, she’d get tired too), or she might just not care. Whatever the reason, Dicey figured there was a lot of work she could do in Millie’s store.

Dicey leaned her bike up against the grimy plate glass window and entered the dim little store. Millie was at the back, leaning against the top of the meat counter. “What can I do for you today?” she asked. “Your grandmother forget something?” Her little blue eyes rested lazily on Dicey. She had gray hair that she braided into circles around her head.

“No,” Dicey answered. “I came to ask you if you might give me a job.”

“A job? Why? Why should I do that? I don’t make enough to keep myself in comfortable shoes,” Millie told her.

“But if I kept the place cleaner, more people would want to come and shop,” Dicey argued. “If I washed the windows and the floors and dusted off the shelves and the cans and the boxes.”

“My Herbie used to do that,” Millie said, “before he died. Business isn’t good,” she told Dicey.

Dicey made herself be patient. She’d just been talking about that, and how to make it better. “But it should be,” she argued. She’d thought about this all the long bike ride into town. “I mean, you have the only grocery store right downtown, the only store that people can walk to. The supermarkets are way out on the edge of town, and people have to drive there. It would be more convenient for people to come to you. If your store looked nicer they would want to.”

Millie seemed to be thinking about this. “Business used to be better,” she finally said.

Dicey stared at the woman, at the heavy mottled flesh of her face. She thought maybe Millie wasn’t very smart at all. She’d never thought of that before. If that was the case, how would she go about convincing Millie to give her a job?

“I think business could be better, if the store looked better,” she said.

Millie’s eyes moved slowly around, studying the narrow aisles. “It’s dirty,” she said. “But not back here,” she added. “I’ve always passed the health department inspection.”

“You’re a good butcher,” Dicey said, trying a little flattery. “Gram says so.”

“Really?” Millie smiled at this. “Did she really?” Dicey nodded, it was the truth. “Ab always was smart and quick. You know, we all — all of us in school — hankered after John Tillerman. He was so handsome and dignified, you know?” Dicey nodded, even though she didn’t know. “But it was Ab he courted. There were some tears shed over that, I can tell you.” Millie nodded her big head wisely.

Dicey didn’t know how to get the conversation back on the track she wanted. “Gram says your husband taught you how to be a butcher.”

“When we got married, that’s right. I wasn’t so fat then,” she said. “We never did have any children.” She relapsed into silence.

“If I worked here,” Dicey said finally, “there’s lots I could do.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

“I mean, maybe after school for an hour, maybe Saturdays in the mornings.”

“That wouldn’t be very long. So it wouldn’t cost me very much. I’d like the company,” Millie said. “How much were you thinking of me paying?”

“A dollar an hour,” Dicey said. She was under age, so she couldn’t charge much.

Millie thought about this, her fat sausage-shaped fingers working on the countertop.

“I thought, if I worked four days a week after school, and then three hours on Saturday,” Dicey said.

The fingers moved. “That would be seven dollars a week,” Millie announced. Dicey nodded. She figured, with seven dollars, she could give each of the little kids an allowance of a dollar a week and the rest to Gram. Except — now she changed that plan — she’d give herself an allowance too. They’d never had allowances. Momma never had any extra money at all to be able to count on to give them. So when they wanted paper or pencils for school, or shoelaces, they had to ask her, and her face got all worried until she figured out where to find the extra money.

“I don’t know,” Millie said.

“We could try it,” Dicey offered. “I could work for three weeks on trial. Then, if your business wasn’t getting better, you could fire me.”

“I never fired anybody, I don’t know how,” Millie objected.

“You see,” Dicey spoke urgently, “my theory is that your business will get better, and so instead of costing you money, I’d be making you money.”

“Do you think so?” Millie asked.

Dicey bit her lip and nodded. This was like talking to a bowl of Jello. Everything you said slipped in and jiggled the Jello, but it didn’t make any dents.

“So you think it might work out that way?”

Dicey nodded. Like a bowl of strawberry Jello, her least favorite kind.

“Then maybe I should.”

“I’ll start on Monday,” Dicey said quickly. “I’ll come in after school on Monday, so that’ll be about three fifteen I’ll be here.”

“All right,” Millie said.

Dicey left before the woman could change her mind. Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t; her guess was that it would. In any case, she had the next three weeks taken care of. She was satisfied, she thought, riding seven miles back over flat, curving roads to her grandmother’s house. To our house, she corrected herself. But when she said our house she couldn’t help thinking about the cabin in Provincetown, up against the windy dunes; even though she knew that wasn’t their house any more.

At dinner, she told everyone about her job. She looked mostly at Gram while she was telling, and thought the woman approved. “But aren’t you under age?” Gram asked her.

“Yes, but Millie didn’t seem to mind. She didn’t even ask,” Dicey said.

“That’s because she never had a thought in her head that somebody else didn’t put there for her,” Gram said.

“You mean she’s stupid?” Sammy asked. He shoveled spaghetti into his mouth in long strands, because he was too hungry to practice winding it on a fork. He had spaghetti sauce all over his face.

“You might say that,” Gram agreed. “What about school?” she asked Dicey.

“School’s easy,” Dicey told her. “I won’t have any trouble in school.” At least, she wouldn’t have any trouble passing, unless it got so bad in the stupid home ec course they made her sign up for that she started cutting classes. “I thought” — she looked at James’s admiring face, and Sammy’s spaghetti decorated one, and Maybeth’s quiet one — “we should have allowances. A dollar a week,” she announced, pleased with herself.

“Even me?” Sammy demanded.

“Even you,” Dicey agreed.

“Good-o,” Sammy said. “Even Gram?”

Dicey met her grandmother’s eyes. She couldn’t tell, from the expressionless face, whether Gram was amused, or angry, or insulted. “Gram too, but Gram gets more. It’s only seven dollars a week, all together,” she apologized. “That would be only three dollars a week. And if her business doesn’t get better, after three weeks I’ll have to find something else.”

“You could get some shoes,” Sammy told his grandmother. “You need to wear shoes when the weather gets cold.”

Gram’s expression resolved itself into amusement.

“Well, you do,” Sammy pressed on. Gram always wore bare feet, unless she was going into town, bare feet and a long skirt, with a blouse loose over it. She wore her clothes for comfort, she told the children.

“I have shoes I wear in cold weather,” she told Sammy. “How do you think I lived so long? Not by going barefoot in cold weather.”

“I didn’t know that,” Sammy complained. “How could I know? I thought it was a good idea.”

“It was,” Dicey assured him. “So it’s all right?” she asked her grandmother.

“If you’ve made the arrangements, it’ll have to be,” Gram said. “But I always thought, if you were a family, you talked over your plans first.”

“And got permission,” James reminded Dicey.

“Not permission,” Gram said, “just to check in.”

Dicey bit back anger. She thought, she said to herself, she was doing something pretty smart and to help out too. Nobody said thank you, or anything.

“I’m proud of Dicey,” Maybeth said softly.

“Oh, so am I,” Gram said. “I think Dicey knows that. You get things done, girl, I’ve got to give you that.”

“So do I,” Sammy said.

“It’s what Tillermans do,” Dicey said, feeling better.

“And I had something to talk over too,” Gram told them. “I’ve got an appointment down town next week, about getting welfare money”she said, as if the words tasted bitter. Then she added, “I thought I might as well talk to a lawyer and get advice and ask about adoption. If that’s what you want.”

“But what about Momma?” Sammy asked.

“Momma’s sick, you know that,” Dicey said quickly. “She can’t take care of us. She might get better, and she might not.”

“The doctors think she won’t,” James added.

Sammy had stopped eating. “Because she’s crazy sick?” he asked.

Dicey nodded.

“But how does she eat?” he demanded. “If she doesn’t eat she’ll die.”

Dicey looked helplessly at her grandmother. “They have ways of feeding people, with tubes and special liquids,” Gram said. You could see Sammy thinking about this.

“But if you adopted us and Momma came back —” he said to Gram.

“Then we would put you and James into one bedroom, and your Momma would sleep where you’re sleeping,” Gram answered quickly, “because that was her room when she lived at home.” Dicey could have gotten up and hugged her grandmother, except that they never did that kind of thing, the Tillermans, hugging and kissing. “Or,” Gram said, “we might turn the dining room into a bedroom. We never use it and she would have more privacy.” Gram waited a minute for more questions, then nodded briskly. “That’s all taken care of then,” she said.

“If you wanted to adopt us,” Dicey said, “I’d like that.”

“And me,” Maybeth said. The boys, too, agreed.

“It would be safer for us,” James explained. “We’d have legal status, and rights. But what about you?” he asked his grandmother.

“Might be safer for me, too,” Gram said sharply. James looked at her, with sudden intensity, as if he wondered what she was thinking and suspected that it might be very interesting. But he didn’t say anything.

Dicey and Maybeth washed up the dishes. Dicey hurried through them, but Maybeth lingered, humming. It was Momma’s song, about giving her love a cherry without any stone, and Dicey joined in. She was drying the forks and putting them away while Maybeth scrubbed down the wooden table. “How can there be a baby with no cry-ing,” they sang. All of a sudden, Dicey remembered how the words to the last verse answered that question, and the other impossible questions the song asked. “That’s funny,” she said.

“What is?”

“The song. You just look at things another way and it all makes sense. When a chicken’s an egg, it doesn’t have bones. Isn’t that funny?”

“I think it’s sad,” Maybeth said. “Anyway, the music is. Momma sang it sad.”

Dicey didn’t know what to say, so she started the last verse.

They worked at fractions. Maybeth’s class had done them last year, in second grade. Mrs. Jackson had told Maybeth she should understand fractions from one half to one eighth. Dicey figured that would be pretty simple. She took an apple and a knife and cut the apple in half. Then she cut it into quarters, then halved the quarters. Maybeth watched with big eyes. When Dicey wrote down the fractions and showed Maybeth the numbers one fourth and one eighth and asked her which was bigger, Maybeth pointed to one eighth.

Dicey tried to explain. “That one up there doesn’t mean anything. I mean, it’s called the numerator and it tells you how many of the eight parts are there.”

“I know,” Maybeth said, studying the numbers seriously. “Since the one is the same, the fraction with eight is bigger.”

Dicey showed her on the apple pieces, but since she had to combine two of the eighths to make a quarter, Maybeth said the two was bigger than the one now.

Dicey tried another approach. “In fractions, the bigger the number in the denominator — that’s at the bottom — the smaller the fraction is.”

“But how can that be?” Maybeth wondered.

“Because you’re talking about parts, not the whole number. It’s different from the whole numbers.” Dicey felt frustrated. It was so clear in her own mind, and Maybeth just sat and looked at her, or at the apple pieces, or at the paper. Her eyes got bigger.

“I don’t understand,” she whispered.

Dicey didn’t know what to do. “That’s OK,” she said. “They aren’t important.”

“I’m supposed to know them,” Maybeth said.

“We’ll try again,” Dicey said. “Some other time. I am going to eat an eighth,” she announced, popping the crisp apple slice into her mouth. She had done it wrong and she didn’t know how to do it right. She tried not to look as discouraged as she felt.

Maybeth smiled at her. “And I’m eating a half,” she said, eating another eighth, one that had been set beside its equal to make a quarter.

The rest of the family was in the living room. They had opened the windows to catch any suggestion of a breeze. Outside, the sun was setting and splashing the sky with colors. Maybeth went right to the battered upright piano and picked out the tune she had been singing in the kitchen. She searched for notes that harmonized with the melody lines. Dicey watched her for a while, trying to figure out how to explain about fractions. Maybeth’s back was straight. Her face was serious as she watched her fingers on the piano keys. After a while, she tried to add more harmony with notes played by her left hand.

Gram and Sammy sat playing checkers, both of them barefooted, both concentrating on the board. They sneaked looks at one another’s faces, as if trying to see what the opponent was thinking of for his next move. When Sammy was doing something tricky, it showed on his face. His eyes danced while he waited for his grandmother to fall into his trap, as if he could barely keep his cleverness inside. Gram gave herself away by her mouth, Dicey decided, because it would get all stiff and straight. That way, you could tell she was hiding something, and all you had to do was look at the board to figure out what her scheme was. Dicey thought she’d like to play a game of checkers with Gram. She thought she could probably beat her.

“King me,” Sammy ordered. Gram pointed out that he was still one move from the end of the board. “Momma used to,” Sammy argued. He was losing the game. His voice quivered.

“If you’re going to play with me, you’re going to play by the rules,” Gram said. “You’re big enough, aren’t you, to play by the real rules.”

Sammy didn’t want to say yes and he didn’t want to say no. When he saw the way Gram looked across at him, he didn’t say anything.

Dicey went to stand behind James, who sat at the big wooden desk reading a thick book. He looked up over his shoulder at her and marked his place on the small print with a finger. “How long do you think it’ll take to get the boat fixed up?” Dicey asked him.

“Not now, Dicey, I’m reading.”

“What’re you reading?”

“The Bible.”


James sighed. “Mr. Thomas said every educated man should. He said it’s one of the underpinnings of western civilization.” His face lit up. “Isn’t that an idea? Underpinnings of civilization? As if — civilization were a big building, you know? Besides, there are some good stories in the Bible.”

“And besides,” Gram added in, “it was the fattest book on the shelves and James always likes to read the fattest ones.”

“That’s not true,” James said.

“Isn’t it,” Gram answered.

“And besides,” James said, “if you have a big idea, you have to write it down in a big book, otherwise you won’t be able to explain all the complicated parts.”

“Didn’t say there was anything wrong with what you were doing,” Gram remarked.

The piano behind them played on, softly, through all this, as if Maybeth knew that everything was all right in the room.

“And look at this, Dicey,” James said quietly. He turned the heavy pages back to the beginning. There was a long list of names and dates, in different handwritings. Some of the ink was so old it had turned brown. The list went all the way down one page and partway down the next.

James’s finger pointed to an entry on the second page. John Tillerman md. Abigail, 1936, she read. Then there were three names, in a row, in the same handwriting, with dates of birth beside them: John Tillerman, Elizabeth Tillerman, Samuel Tillerman. By Samuel there were two dates, and the last date had been put in later, by a different hand. The same hand that put in a date of death for the first John Tillerman. Dicey touched Momma’s name there in the ink and pointed at Samuel’s name. “That’s Bullet, our uncle.”

“He was only nineteen,” James pointed out. They were talking almost in a whisper.

“It was a war,” Dicey explained.

“Even so,” James said, “that’s still young. He was only six years older than you. Only nine older than me.”

We should be written down too, Dicey thought. But maybe Gram didn’t want that.

“I can hear what you’re thinking, girl,” her grandmother said. Dicey looked up, alarmed. “And you’re right,” Gram said. She got up, took James’s place at the desk, and pulled an old fountain pen out of the drawer. Slowly, she wrote down their names: Dicey Tillerman. James Tillerman. Maybeth Tillerman. Samuel Tillerman.

They all looked at the names there. At last, Gram said, “That’s settled too.” She gave James back his seat.

None of the children said anything. Dicey guessed that, like her, they couldn’t think of how to say all the things they were thinking. Finally, Sammy found words. “Good-o,” he declared.

Gram smiled to herself and agreed to play another game of checkers with him. James went back to his reading, Maybeth back to the piano. For a while, Dicey watched them all.

Then she wandered out of the room. She had nothing to do. Her homework she had finished quickly after school on Friday, just some math, and memorizing for science. There weren’t any chores she could think of. She decided to go outside.

Outside was better than inside, Dicey always thought that. In Provincetown, where they had lived with their momma, they were always outside, on the dunes and down by the rushing water. Summertimes they would go out early in the morning and stay all day. The rooms in their little cabin were awfully small, especially with four children and one of them Sammy, so they had spent all the time they could outside. But even here, in Gram’s house, with its big, boxy rooms, Dicey preferred outside. She liked the water. She liked the stretch of water leading before her and she liked the stretch of sky overhead.

Dicey crossed the lawn at the back, went through the garden, and then headed down the narrow path through the tall marsh grasses. Overhead, the growing darkness turned the sky to the color of blueberries, and long clouds floated gray. The only movement Dicey could see in the Bay, when she sat dangling her feet over the end of the dock, was the turgid, slow sweeping of tide. She wiped sweat off her forehead. She looked out across the flat water. Just a band of burning orange was left from the sunset, but the water caught that and transformed it, lying before Dicey like a field of gold. Like cloth of gold.

Dicey was feeling edgy and not really like herself. Probably, she told herself, it was all these changes that were permanent. The new home and the new school and Gram. But Dicey didn’t mind changes, she’d gotten used to them over the summer. For a minute, she unrolled the adventures of the summer out, like ribbons. The ribbons unrolled back until Dicey saw her momma’s face. But it wasn’t her momma’s own face she saw, it was the photograph the police in Bridgeport had shown her for identification, that faraway face lying back against a white pillow, with the golden hair cut short all around it.

The sadness of Momma lost to them, maybe forever, was something Dicey carried around deep inside her all the time, and maybe that explained her edginess. Dicey wasn’t used to carrying sadness around. She was used to seeing trouble and doing something about it. She just didn’t know anything to do about Momma.

What Dicey was used to, she realized, was things being simple, like a song. You sang the words and the melody straight through. That was the way she had brought her family down here to Crisfield, singing straight through.

Gram probably knew something about carrying sorrow around. However she acted, Dicey knew Gram had cared about her three children who all left her and never came back. She wondered how Gram carried her sorrows. Maybe someday, when they had all got used to one another, she would ask.

The first pale stars were coming out. It was the dark of the moon, so the stars burned brighter, especially the evening star, hanging just over the horizon. Dicey knew she should get back inside and send Maybeth and Sammy up to bed. But she didn’t want to and maybe she wouldn’t.

She lay on her back along the dock and looked up at the stars. The sky was turning black and the stars burned out there, unchanging. All those stars, and those dark millions of light years . . . Dicey wondered if the space between was to push the stars apart or hold them together.

She jumped up impatiently. That was James’s kind of idea, and when she started having ideas like that it was time to get back inside.

When she returned to the house, only James was still in the living room. “Where are the little kids?” Dicey asked.

“They went to bed, half an hour ago. They’re asleep; Gram tucked them in and went up to check later.”

“You should have called me.”

“Gram said maybe you wanted to be off on your own. She said you put in a long, hard summer with all of us, and we should remember that you might want to get away once in a while.”

Dicey didn’t know what to answer. She was surprised to hear that Gram understood that, but still — she almost wished Sammy and Maybeth hadn’t wanted to go to bed without saying good night to her.

James had his face back in the book. “Am I bothering you?” Dicey asked. He shook his head, but his eyes were asking her questions. “Is something wrong?”

He put his eyes back on the page. “I’m just wondering how things are going to go for us this year. And for me. I mean, it’s not as if we were her real children — and at school too. What if it doesn’t work out?”

“She’s going to adopt us, you heard her. She wants to, she likes us,” Dicey said. “She put us down in the Bible.”

“I know,” James said. “But Dicey? You never understand, because it’s always so easy for you, you just go ahead and do what you want. And Sammy, too, and everybody likes Maybeth. And I think Sammy must remind her of our Uncle Bullet.”

“What are you talking about?” Dicey demanded.

“But I never fit in, not at Provincetown, or coming down here if you think about it. I think about it.”

“But you did, we did it together,” Dicey pointed out. The trouble with James was he thought too much about things.

“Some people, they’re always outsiders, wherever they are.”

“So am I,” Dicey told him, finally understanding what he was worrying about.

“Yeah, but you don’t care,” James said.

Dicey couldn’t argue with him about that. “I wouldn’t worry, about it, James,” she advised.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because it won’t do any good,” Dicey snapped.

He didn’t believe her, she could tell. She didn’t let that bother her. She just picked up one of the books on boat building and went up to read in bed.

During the next week, Dicey settled herself into a routine. She rode her bike to school (the little kids took the bus, which stopped for them right by Gram’s mailbox), sat through classes, and spent an hour exactly in Millie’s store. Except for the windows, the difference Dicey’s work made didn’t show much the first week. But after she’d spent three hours on Saturday morning washing down the floors, the store really did look cleaner, more like a place where you would like to buy food.

Dicey had planned out her work at the store, what to do first, second, third, during the long, slow school days, going from science to math to social studies to gym to English to home ec. The only class she couldn’t think in was home ec, because there you had to do things. Stupid things, Dicey reported to James. They were starting with sewing, buttons first. It wasn’t interesting, but you had to watch what you were doing or you attracted Miss Eversleigh’s attention and she would come stand behind you at the long table, explaining over again all the boring things you had already listened to, how to thread a needle and tie the knot, how to position the button and lock it in place, boring-boring-boring. Dicey had more important things to think about. Miss Eversleigh might care about that stuff, that was her business, and Dicey guessed the tall, bony, white-haired woman didn’t have anything better to do. But Dicey had much better things to do. She had her own routine.

When she rode home from her job, Dicey would work for an hour on the boat, scraping off the old layers of paint, before going inside to help Gram with supper or some other housework. After supper, she would listen to Maybeth read for a while and help her review the lists of words. Then she would dash off the busy work her teachers gave as homework and spend an hour studying the boat books.

On Sunday, Gram asked Dicey to give her some advice about the papers and pamphlets she had been given at the Welfare Office and by the lawyer. “I can’t figure these forms out,” Gram said, irritated. She had them all spread in front of her, covering half the long kitchen table. “So you’re going to have to put your nose into them and help me, girl.”

If Gram needed her help, that was fine with Dicey. And if she couldn’t figure things out, she could always enlist James’s aid. “Between us,” she promised Gram, “we can do anything.”

“Humph,” Gram said. “I hope you’re not counting on that.”

Dicey met her grandmother’s eyes, across the table. “You do it too, don’t you?” she asked. “Worrying,” she explained.

“Doesn’t hurt to be prepared,” Gram said. “I’ve never taken charity, never wanted to. I don’t expect to enjoy the experience, don’t expect it to be easy. I like to be prepared for the worst. It saves trouble.”

Dicey remembered that the next Wednesday, when Maybeth came home from school with a note. As Dicey walked over from putting her bike away in the barn, she saw Gram shucking the last ears of corn from the garden. Gram sat on the back steps with her toes dug into the sun-warmed dirt. “Something on the table you should look at,” Gram told her.

Dicey knew what it was before she picked it up. A note from Maybeth’s teacher. Maybeth was always coming home with notes from her teacher, saying could they please have a conference, not saying what they wanted to confer about. In Dicey’s experience, what they wanted to talk about was what to do about Maybeth being so slow, about how they wanted to put her back a grade, which wasn’t doing anything as far as Dicey could tell. Only the nun at the day camp in Bridgeport that summer had talked about really doing something. But what she wanted to do was send Maybeth to a special school for retarded people. Dicey didn’t believe Maybeth was retarded, not the way she could learn music, the melodies and the words. But Dicey couldn’t be sure; how could she be sure? She made herself pick up the piece of paper from the table.

She took the folded paper outside to sit beside Gram while she read it. It was from Maybeth’s music teacher, asking Gram to come in for a meeting, the next day, at three fifteen, as soon as school let out. “But Maybeth can sing,” Dicey protested. “She never had a note from her music teacher before,” Dicey told Gram.

“I don’t know,” Gram said. Her fingers pulled the long protective leaves from the ears of corn. This late in the season, half of the ears in her pile were too wormy to eat. Those she tossed into a mound on a brown paper bag. “I don’t know what this young man is in such a hurry for.”

“I’m sorry,” Dicey said. “I’ll go in and see him before work.”

“I’ll go,” Gram told her quickly. “I was planning to. I’m the one who should, anyway, I’m the name that’s on their thousands of forms.”

Dicey was so relieved she didn’t know what to say. Instead, she picked up an ear and started pulling off the leaves. “I’m sorry,” she said again.

“You don’t look it,” Gram observed.

Dicey looked up at her grandmother’s face. Gram rewarded her with a sudden smile and spoke briskly. “You’re not the only one responsible, girl. You’ve been responsible a long time and done a good job. Take a rest now.”

Dicey nodded her head and that was that. She finished the corn and dropped the husks into the garbage can on her way out to work on the sailboat.

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Reading Group Guide

I swore not to tell this story while Newton was still alive.

1696, young Christopher Ellis is sent to the Tower of London, but not as a prisoner. Though Ellis is notoriously hotheaded and was caught fighting an illegal duel, he arrives at the Tower as assistant to the renowned scientist Sir Isaac Newton. Newton is Warden of the Royal Mint, which resides within the Tower walls, and he has accepted an appointment from the King of England and Parliament to investigate and prosecute counterfeiters whose false coins threaten to bring down the shaky, war-weakened economy. Ellis may lack Newton's scholarly mind, but he is quick with a pistol and proves himself to be an invaluable sidekick and devoted apprentice to Newton as they zealously pursue these criminals.

While Newton and Ellis investigate a counterfeiting ring, they come upon a mysterious coded message on the body of a man killed in the Lion Tower, as well as alchemical symbols that indicate this was more than just a random murder. Despite Newton's formidable intellect, he is unable to decipher the cryptic message or any of the others he and Ellis find as the body count increases within the Tower complex. As they are drawn into a wild pursuit of the counterfeiters that takes them from the madhouse of Bedlam to the squalid confines of Newgate prison and back to the Tower itself, Newton and Ellis discover that the counterfeiting is only a small part of a larger, more dangerous plot, one that reaches to the highest echelons of power and nobility and threatens much more than the collapse of the economy.

Dark Matter is the lastest masterwork of suspense from Philip Kerr, the internationally bestsellingand brilliantly innovative thriller writer who has dazzled readers with his imaginative, fast-paced novels. Like An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Name of the Rose, and Kerr's own Berlin Noir trilogy, Dark Matter is historical mystery at its finest, an extraordinary, suspense-filled journey through the shadowy streets and back alleys of London with the brilliant Newton and his faithful protégé. The haunted Tower with its bloody history is the perfect backdrop for this richly satisfying tale, one that introduces an engrossing mystery into the volatile mix of politics, science, and religion that characterized life in seventeenth-century London.

From the Hardcover edition.

1. The theme of decoding permeates the novel. As Newton and Ellis investigate the third murder, Newton observes, "All of nature is a cipher, and all of science a secret writing that must be unravelled by men who would understand the mystery of things." And in the prologue, Ellis notes, "Newton looked upon all of creation as a riddle…I think he believed that a man who might decipher an earthly code might similarly fathom the heavenly one." By the end of the novel, how much progress has each man made by way of decoding? Has Ellis decoded Newton? Has Newton gotten any closer to deciphering the "heavenly code"?

2. Upon meeting Ellis, Newton instantly launches into a James Bond-esque sizing-up, deducing that Ellis is talented with both rapier and pistol, plays cards, has had too much red wine the night before, and has recently been intimate with a dark-haired woman with whom he'd drunk juniper ale—a feat that flusters Ellis and provides comic relief in the narrative. Where else in the story do we see Newton being purposefully sly and funny? Do these moments alter your perception of him?

3. What charade do Ellis and Newton pull off in order to extract information from Oates? What knowledge do they gain from him? How does it affect what they do next?

4. After Newton and Ellis chat about Newton's discoveries concerning gravity, Ellis breaks away from the story to note, "In all respects he was a paragon, a human touchstone that might try gold, or good from bad." Does this starry-eyed admiration shift in the course of the novel? Ellis goes on to witness Newton's seeming heartlessness, his facility with lying, even his apparent willingness to trade his niece's virtue for his own career advancement. Do these things change Ellis' opinion of the master?

5. What is the significance of Twistleton's mysterious utterance, "Blood is behind everything. Once you understand that, you understand all that has happened"?

6. Newton introduces Ellis to the use of prisms and the principles of refraction and refrangibility. Why? What is the metaphor here? How does Ellis act as a "prism" in the course of events that follows?

7. Halfway through the novel, Ellis realizes that he has lost his faith. "It was Newton's mathematics that reduced the cosmos to a series of algebraic calculations, while his damned prisms ripped apart God's rainbow covenant with Noah. How could God remain in heavens that were so keenly observed through a telescope and precisely described as a series of fluxions?" Ironically, Newton does not seem tormented by a similar conflict. How does he merge his faith and his science? Is the science/faith conflict pertinent in today's world? Where do you see it played out?

8. How does Newton accomplish his dream of besting Rene Descartes?

9. The dramatic backdrop of this story is the Tower, where coiners and soldiers are perpetually at odds due to the Recoinage Act of 1696, which has forced them to share the space. What does Ellis mean when he says, "The Tower was more than just a prison and a place of safety to mint the coin; it was also a state of mind, an attitude that affected all who came into contact with its walls"?

10. Ellis's condition for working with Newton is that Newton "will always correct my ignorance." Does Newton do a good job of this? By the end, what has Newton taught Ellis, and in what ways has he left Ellis more confused than enlightened?

11. Who are the Templars? How do they figure into the Huguenot plot of revenge against Catholics? What do Newton and Ellis do with the information about the Templars that Mister Pepys gives them?

12. Newton has a close call with the authorities when he is summoned to appear before the Lords Justices to defend himself against allegations that he is a heretic. How does he debunk Count Gaetano's charges? Why is the Count's derisive comment about the Dutch a mistake?

13. What do you make of Newton? Is he a likeable character? Do you trust him? Do you think he really believes his maxim that "true knowledge is the greatest treasure of all"? What do you make of his relationship with his niece?

14. Why does Ellis say that he swore not to tell this story while Newton was alive? Why does he reject the analogy of Newton leaving behind a golden thread "by which we may find our way through God's labyrinth," in favor of the harsher image of a chasm or abyss, "into which Newton, by virtue of his system of the world and falling bodies and mathematics and chronology, lowers us upon a rope…"?

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 80 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2012

    Best book

    This book is a really good book and those of you who havent read the first one it is a must read!!!!!!!!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 1, 2011

    Great Book!!!

    Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt is a powerful story. The Tillerman children are inspiring and Dicey, the main character, represents the person we should all strive to be as a brother or sister. The author, Cynthia Voigt tells their story as they struggle to make ends meet and establish themselves in their new home at their grandmother's house, with such talent. Though the end may be a little predictable in leading up to it, once there, it is impossible to keep the tears back. Ultimately, Voigt teaches what it is to keep a family together, working and supporting one another. Dicey's Song is an excellent book and is highly recommended to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2011

    Best book ever

    I love the book i read the first one now in going to read this one i cant wait

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 7, 2010


    I read the first book- Homecoming- and loved it so much that i couldn't wait to read the the second book. It immediately absorbed me and it was hard to stop reading. The book takes you on the wild journey of a 13 year old girl who has traveled cross-country with her siblings, and found a home with their grandmother. The book shows you the trials of learning to be dependent after living independent for so long. As she goes through school, and gets a job, she comes to hear some grave news. Her mother has died. She and her grandmother go to cremate Dicey's mother, while Dicey's sister, Maybeth, has a hidden talent for piano that is discovered. She gets a wonderful piano teacher that really helps the family out. The book was very intriguing and it made me want to keep reading, and keep reading. I cant wait to read the next book in the series!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 1999


    This book was a great book.We read it in school and I first thought it was going to be boring,but until I read it, I just wanted to read it all over again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2015

    Dicey¿s Song Dicey, Maybeth, James, and Sammy Tillerman got aba

    Dicey’s Song
    Dicey, Maybeth, James, and Sammy Tillerman got abandoned by their mother at the beginning of the summer. They traveled long and far before finally getting to their grandmother’s house where they are now. Dicey soon gets a job and makes a friend named Mina. Maybeth is having trouble learning how to read but her music teacher thinks that she would be great at piano and Maybeth turns out to be amazing. Dicey has to give up a big chunk of her salary though to pay for the lessons. Dicey starts having trouble letting their grandmother plan and pay for items. They end up getting a call about their mother from an asylum saying that she will not wake up from her sleep. Dicey must learn to let go and reach out to others. 
    I give this book three stars because it is not as interesting in the beginning because there was not a big conflict. There are also not a lot of events throughout the whole book. It is not as important to read the first book Homecoming because she explained what happened fairly well. Overall I thought this book was okay because it was written well, I just wish that more events happened.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013


    If you like Caroline B. Cooneys books, this book is definitely one for you! The author has the same talent for writing how people think, and all of the characters are easy to relate to.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2013

    To have not read this book yet...

    Homecoming was amazing! Me and my friends were reading it for our book club, it gave us lots to talk about!!!!! I am so thinking about getting this one!!!! :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2012


    Discriptive language too good to put down :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012


    Very well written. I recommend this book to all people! Cynthia Voigt is a great author. I already finished Homecoming, (the first book in the Tillerman Cycle), and I can't wait until the whole series comes out in Nook version. It is definitely one of my favorites. Read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2012


    This is absolutley posotively 5 starts thumbs up. It follows the book Homecoming and to give a breif summary about the first book. Four kids, Dicey,13,James,10,Maybeth,9,and Sammy,6, who got abanoded by their mother in a mall parking lot. Left to fend for themselves the kids have to make it from the top of Conneticut to the bottom of Maryland WALKING!!!!!!!! With only a few dollars they made it to their grandma's house. Getting there she didn't want them only letting them stay for the night. Staying longer and rubbing off on her are allowed to stay.
    In this bookk it is about the day to day struglles. A pageturner mind blowing book. This is a must read for a book that can be read fast. The kids have newlives at a new school. Having to let go of everything she had always know and trusted Dicey becomes worried she can't and is dobtful about her grandma being able to do this. The other kids are making new freinds and getting invited to parties. Doingwell for the most part at school, the kids are getting good grades. One day in Dicey's class they had a project to do. Hoping to do it by herself Dicey gets to work. After getting nudged several time Dicey turns around to a warm smile of the other smartest girl in class. Wanting to work together Dicey agrees and they ace the project. The next day after class the girl awaited to walk Dicey to her next class. Dicey cold on the outside kept turning it down. The girl keeps it up and to find out the rest get the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2012

    I <3 this

    Cynthia voigt rocks!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    Havent read this book yet but ...........

    I really love homecoming by cynthia voigt. I got it for christmas and I am only on page 51but i am luving it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2011

    Like the book

    I really like this book :)

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  • Posted October 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A story about responsibility and survival.

    Dicey is the best older sister anyone could possibly want. She taught me so much about life--about people more specifically. I was amazed that one so young would realize these things AND use it to improve the quality of their lives. Her determination to do the right thing -- NO MATTER WHAT! hit me right in the heart. Her resourcefulness is astounding. I actually went out and bought the sequel to see how it continued. (That's a first for me!) It made me review my 'parenting skills,' to see how they matched up to hers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2008

    Dicey's Song

    The Tillermans have just settled into Gram's in Crisfield, Maryland. Dicey, the eldest child has trouble letting Gram be in charge of the kids. All her life Dicey has been the one to take care of them and now she has to let go but still hold on. There are also new problems emerging. Momma's still in the hospital and Sammy is fighting again. Read Dicey's Song to learn more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2008

    An Excellent Book!!

    Dicey's song was a really good book. I wanted to keep on reading and reading until i finished it because I wanted to know what would happen next. Anyone could read it. Its about this young girl who has to take care of her siblings and live with her grandmother that everyone says she crazy but not and she hardly knows. She doesn't live with her mother because her mother didnt want to take care of them anymore and the 4 kids had to live on there own for a long time. thats what happened in homecoming and then it added on more about finding and living with there grandmother. They end up being really happy and love living there. Its everything they like and need. They become really close with there grandmother. They find out there mother is in a mental hospital and she soon dies...you have to read homecoming first to understand Dicey's Song.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2008

    Should be a movie!(AND HOMECOMING TOO)

    This book is so good but it still makes me cry.I wonder how momma went like that it makes so sad because she died. Read this book it'll change your life. Dicey is a really good person because she takes care of her siblings, and she is smart and thinks about others and herself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2007

    Dicey's Song

    This is a very emotional story that will capture your heart. As a thirteen year old girl Dicey must deal with a lot after her mother leaves her and her siblings. They must adjust to living with their grandmother. Dicey says, ¿I have the feeling that I know who I am, only I¿m not any more.¿ You must read this book to find out if Dicey ever learns to deal with her mother¿s absence and life with her grandmother. This book was a Newbery Medal Book. This book is a realistic novel and would be appropriate for ages 12 and up. This is a situation that could really happen to a child and this would be a great book to help them deal with such circumstances. I really enjoyed reading this book. Cynthia Voigt is the author of Dicey¿s Song. Before Ms. Voigt became an author she was an English teacher. This book is part of a series of books written by Ms. Voigt. She has won many awards for both her children¿s books and her young adult books. Voigt, Cynthia. Dicey¿s Song. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2007

    I admire Dicey for her courage and dedication.

    Cynthia Voigt was born in Boston in 1942 and grew up in Connecticut. After she attended college, she swore that she would not become a teacher. On the other hand, she could not help it and did become a teacher. Her dream was to become a writer, but she had to hold off on her dream until she got married and started teaching. When her son was born, she found time to write. She loves to read and watch movies. Her book, Dicey¿s Song, won the Newbery Medal in 1983. A lot of her books are based on real places. Voigt said, ¿Dicey is the child she would have liked to have been and Gram is the person she would like to become. The reading level of this book is fifth grade, eighth month. Some themes of the book include love, family, commitment, integrity, and excellence. The genre of the book is realistic fiction. It is a story of trying to hold but let go at the same time. In the book, it says, 'But I'll tell you something else, too. Something I've learned, the hard way. I guess'¿Gram laughed a little¿'I'm the kind of person who has to learn things the hard way. You've got to hold on. Hold on to people. They can get away from you. It's not always going to be fun, but if you don't¿hold on¿then you lose them.' Gram lost her husband and all of her children left and never came back. She was alone and nobody there to talk to. Momma walked out on the children so Dicey, James, Sammy, and Marybeth end up at Gram¿s house. Dicey has had to watch the younger siblings and she wants to be selfish by re-doing a sailboat she had found in Gram¿s barn. Their problems and sorrows did not go away easily. They had to learn all about one another and Gram ends up adopting them. Dicey begins to grow a strong bond with Gram, who talks about reaching out and letting go it takes a crisis for Dicey to finally understand what Gram meant. Read the book to find out how Dicey reveals this mystery. Dicey¿s Song is an incredible book. It teaches about commitment and the bonds of family. Dicey is a girl I admire because she does everything to try and help her family out and she does not care how she does it. It takes courage from Dicey and support of Gram to keep this family together. It is truly an amazing story. I loved it. Voigt, Cynthia. Dicey¿s Song. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1982.

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