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Gem & Dixie

Gem & Dixie

by Sara Zarr

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“A story that broke my heart and put it back together again. You won’t want to let Gem and Dixie go.” —Sarah Dessen, New York Times bestselling author of Saint Anything

From renowned author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr comes a deep, nuanced, and gorgeously written story about the complex relationship


“A story that broke my heart and put it back together again. You won’t want to let Gem and Dixie go.” —Sarah Dessen, New York Times bestselling author of Saint Anything

From renowned author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr comes a deep, nuanced, and gorgeously written story about the complex relationship between two sisters from a broken home.

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 02/06/2017
For most of her life, 17-year-old Gem has played parent to her younger sister, Dixie: their mother spends her meager salary on drugs instead of food, and their long-absent father offers no real support. Now that he has unexpectedly returned to their hometown of Seattle, Gem is suspicious of his motives; when she discovers a bag of money he has stashed in their apartment, she hopes to persuade Dixie to ditch their chaotic home life. But the two sisters have grown apart over the years—Gem has turned inward while friends and popularity come easily for her sister—so it won’t be easy. Zarr (The Lucy Variations) movingly explores the effects of neglect on two vulnerable girls relearning how to trust, as they decamp to hotels and a nearby island in an attempt to give themselves a respite from their day-to-day lives. Readers’ hearts will ache for Gem, who so desperately wants to follow a different path than her parents, as she tries to carve out a better life for herself and her sister. Ages 14–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Apr.)
Sarah Dessen
“A story that broke my heart and put it back together again. You won’t want to let Gem and Dixie go.”
Laura Ruby
“Packed with Zarr’s sharp-eyed, honest observations of human nature, GEM & DIXIE gives us two sisters crushed by the failures of their parents, and asks how bad things need to get before you have to make a change. A road-trip like you’ve never been on before.”
Matt de la Peña
“This may be the most powerful sibling story I’ve ever read. Gem and Dixie’s road trip is heartbreaking and honest and beautifully rendered by one of my all-time favorite writers. This is Sara Zarr at her absolute best.”
Nova Ren Suma
“GEM & DIXIE is a beautiful, poignant, and ultimately hopeful story from one of the finest YA authors writing today. An exploration of the complicated love and loyalty between sisters that is at once profoundly moving and unflinchingly real.”
Booklist (starred review)
“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.”
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—With a limited support system, Gem is adrift. Her father left years ago, and her mother barely acknowledges her. Gem has always felt intensely protective of her younger sister, Dixie, but now that the girls are in high school, things are different. Pretty, popular Dixie wants little to do with awkward and angsty Gem. When the girls' father returns, however, their already precarious life is upended, sending the teens on a journey that will change them both forever. Writing in a terse, almost brusque manner, Zarr adeptly brings to life a protagonist grappling with anger, loneliness, and rejection. The siblings' relationship is authentically nuanced: Gem's love for her sister is balanced with her resentment of Dixie, who easily garners attention and appears to have a better relationship with their parents. The plot is secondary to the rich portrayal of the characters' internal lives and depiction of a dysfunctional family engaged in more subtle forms of mistreatment. Neither Gem nor Dixie is physically abused, but their parents' neglectful, manipulative behavior and struggles with drug addiction have left their mark on both girls. While some readers may find that the book wraps up loose ends too neatly, others will welcome the optimistic conclusion. VERDICT A thoughtful work that will resonate with Zarr's many fans and those who appreciate contemplative, character-driven novels.—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2017-01-25
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)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.97(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

Meet 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 and online at www.sarazarr.com.