A Solitary Blue

A Solitary Blue

4.0 67
by Cynthia Voigt

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Jeff Greene was only seven when Melody, his mother, left him with his reserved, undemonstrative father, the Professor. So when she reenters his life years later with an invitation to spend the summer with her in Charleston, Jeff is captivated by her free spirit and warmth, and he eagerly looks forward to returning for another visit the following year.

But Jeff's

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Jeff Greene was only seven when Melody, his mother, left him with his reserved, undemonstrative father, the Professor. So when she reenters his life years later with an invitation to spend the summer with her in Charleston, Jeff is captivated by her free spirit and warmth, and he eagerly looks forward to returning for another visit the following year.

But Jeff's second summer in Charleston ends with a devastating betrayal, and he returns to his father wounded almost beyond bearing. But out of Jeff's pain grows a deepening awareness of the unexpected and complicated ways of love and loss and of family and friendship -- and the strength to understand his father, his mother, and especially himself.

Editorial Reviews

"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

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Tillerman Cycle Series, #3
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

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A Solitary Blue 4 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 67 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was really good. As the book progressed it got alot better even though the beginning really confused me. I defenitly reccomend.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like pi and pie
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really really liked this book. I couldn't put it down and I finished it in one day. I definitely recommend this book!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Solitary Blue follows the life of a boy named Jeff Greene from age seven to eighteen. Even when he is only seven years old, Jeff is a self-sufficient person who is well-behaved, makes every effort to stay out of his parents’ way and keeps to himself. He has developed into a solitary little boy out of necessity, obviously, because it seems his parents are too preoccupied with their work to give him the attention he should receive as their son. They keep Jeff busy and out of the way by, for example, enrolling him in both morning and afternoon kindergarten. The reader gets the impression that Jeff is an unwanted child; perhaps Jeff senses it too. The book begins with Jeff coming home from school and finding a letter from his mother, Melody, informing him that she has left him because she needs to go and make the world a better place. The content of her letter reveals how messed up her priorities are. She claims that she wants to make the world a better place for her son and other children, and yet she fails to see that she can do the most good by being a mother to Jeff. Jeff, only seven years old at the time when Melody walks out on the family, is devastated and begins to develop a fear that his father, who he calls the Professor, would abandon him as well. He believes he must prevent this from happening by retreating into his shell and not cause any trouble that would upset his father. The details of Jeff’s home life before Melody leaves gives further insight into how she neglects her son for the sake of her “causes”. However, Jeff, puts his mother on a pedestal and cherishes every bit of attention she shows him, which is not that much or often because she is too busy planning a meeting or organizing a demonstration. Beneath the beauty and charm, and the thin façade of magnanimity is someone who is actually very immature, selfish, manipulative, and, yes, heartless. It is very cruel of Melody to burden her son with the responsibility of being “grown up” enough to accept her decision to walk out on him because she has been unhappy. A reasonable, responsible, loving mother would not expect that from her seven-year-old child. For the next four years, Jeff and his father manage to go on with their lives without Melody. Then Melody reenters Jeff’s life and eventually hurts him so deeply, causing him to become severely depressed and despondent. Melody’s cruel treatment had damaged Jeff to the point that he feels so fragile that he could easily shatter into a thousand pieces. To cope with the unbearable pain, Jeff creates an imaginary tower, in which he can take refuge. By completely shutting everyone out when he is in his tower, he thinks he can protect himself from being hurt by anyone else. His father can see the emotional pit that Jeff is in and becomes alarm with concern for his son. With the help of his friend, Brother Thomas, the Professor reaches out to Jeff and learns what Melody has done to him. The Professor goes through great lengths to help Jeff heal, and as he opens up to his son, we can see that underneath the reserve exterior, the Professor is a caring father who loves his son. One of the most touching moment in the book is when Jeff and his father start to connect through their shared experience of being hurt by Melody. The Professor finally tells Jeff that he cares for him, although he never learned how to show it. From that point on they begin to reveal their love for each other in their own way. As they forge a bond, they become more of a family unit, instead of just co-existing as two strangers in the same household. When it comes to Melody, both are weak and powerless to her emotional manipulation. However, for the sake of protecting the other one, each was able to summon up the strength and courage to fight Melody. Their willingness to be strong for each other reveals how much they care for one another. It’s a very sweet story of a father and son who starts off as strangers and ends up becoming a family. Jeff and the professor are very endearing characters, quiet and reserve on the surface, but full of goodness underneath –and, with just the right amount of humor to win the hearts of the readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I very much enjoyed A SOLITARY BLUE because I had been wondering about Jeff's personal story. Can't wait for the rest of the Tillerman series to be available!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You should really read this book if you havent its amazing!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
RayanneKristaTamaraAustin More than 1 year ago
When reading Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt, I was not impressed. I was expecting more of a intriguing plot line. I thought the over-all plot was dull in the sense of how Voigt talked about Jeff's life. I found it difficult to keep turning the pages because the same sequence of events kept repeating themselves over and over, throughout the whole book. The book attempts to show the relationship between divorced parents and the connection that they both have to share with the child. It is not successful in the sense of showing the relationship because the word choice and details are not captivating. In most books, the child go through a series of emotions and problems, but Cynthia Voigt only see's one side of the father/mother connection to the child, such as; Voigt only explains how Jeff wants to be perfect for his father and mother, but doesn't ever describe how all of the characters relationship is as a whole. The lack of anayzing all the emotions each character goes through, is the main downfall and why I wouldn't recommend this book. The novel starts off with 7 year old Jeff receiving a devastating letter from his mother, Melody, the letter states that she could not be with him any longer. Being such a young boy, Jeff was mind boggled on how to handle his mother leaving him with his unemotional and workaholic father. Although they didn't have a great relationship he didn't want the Professor to leave. Many years later, Jeff gets a letter from his mother asking if Jeff wants to stay with her for the summer in Charleston, South Carolina. After visiting his mother for the second time, he finds out her true personality; a side of her that he would have never expected.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Solitary Blue This book was easy to connect with. It talks about parents, family, and how to deal with divorce. It is a very emotional as you go through the story. Many people can connect with this book. It mostly talks about how Jeff reconnects with his mother. Jeff's father never shows any love for him or anything and shen he visits his mom she gives him everything. Can you imagine not being loved by your own dad? Some people might say this book is boring, but if you read this book you will be captivated and surprised. The story has a deeper than life meaning that will wrap you up in the words and the story. The real connection goes towards children who's parents are divorced or getting divorded. A Solitary Blue really makes you think that maybe, just maybe, sometimes divorce is the best option. Even though Jeff is in the middle and loves both parents he sees each of their weaknesses. The choice and amount of literary elements used in this story is fenominal. The way the words meld together form pictures in the mind of the reader. Not only are the characters deep, but so are the words they use. Each character brings a new spice to the table. Dicey brings fire and more emotion than the Professor and Jeff combined can create. The Tillermans work hard and try, which is one reason why Jeff enjoys being with them. Melody broke poor Jeffie's heart so many times that he doesn't know what to do about her. Much repitition is used to good use. It enhances the story in a way that words alone cannot commuicate. Some humor may be dry, but it adds a light-hearted feel to A Solitary Blue. Inner connections commuicate the way that the characters interact. We would suggest this to any avid reader that enjoys books and understands the deeper meanings of the words.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
louise bates More than 1 year ago
read this book for school an its terrible
Lily Larkin More than 1 year ago
A solitary blue is a great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BLACKFIREKD More than 1 year ago
this book was so boring i couldnt get past the first chapter plus the chapters are like 40 pages long .i would rather read twilight and thats saying a lot
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book A Solitary Blue is about a little boy who had been abandoned by his mother at a young age, Jeff has to raise himself. He had then gone on to live the next few years of his life doing everything by himself, until he gets sick with bronchial pneumonia. His father, the professor, hadn't noticed him getting sicker until he was bedridden. In desperation the professor had no choice but to call Jeff's mother. Worried about her son, she invited him to stay with her for the summer. After learning about his mother's side of the family, he comes along some pretty tough decisions in his life that would break the hearts of family members. All in all, the book was just mediocre. Just picture it this way the author went swinging for the fences but only got walked. The author gives vivid details about everything, but some time there is too much as over describing. One other problem I saw with this book was how the dialogue was worded. First, the author would not care to start a new paragraph when someone else was talking. Secondly, the author would diversify between different words, such as said. The author would only use said, never cried, never responded, or yelled, just said. On a lighter note the author did do a good job in showing us through Jeff's childhood and high school years, but most of all she explained the decisions that he had to make to keep everybody happy. I recommend that you do read this book, but it might be a tearjerker so it would be a good Idea to bring tissues, although I do not recommend for student in high school, you will lose interest. Fast!
Chelsea58 More than 1 year ago
Jeff Greene was seven years old when his mother left him. The Professor, his father, wasn't much of a guardian and didn't know how to even communicate with his son. Jeff eventually learned to care for himself including cook food, go to school, and raise himself all together. A few years later Melody, his mother, came back into his life wrapping love around Jeff. Remember what it was like having a mother he instantly fell in love with everything about her. The next summer Jeff went up to see her only to find out she wasn't what she seemed to be. Jeff then returns home knowing he wasn't going back. His mother tried to come back and with surprise, Jeff told her he didn't want her in his life. I give this book a four out of five. This book had strong points and at times, makes you want to cry. Also, it gives a better understanding on how you can't let people walk all over you whether you love them or not. You need to know when to say no. I enjoyed reading this book because I have some connections to Jeff's problems. I encourage you to read this book if you are looking for an emotional but enjoyable story. -Chelsea
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Solitary Blue A Solitary Blue is about a boy name Jeffery but is called "Jeffie." In the beginning his mom left him at the age of seven. From that point he had to raise himself because his father was a professor at a university. When Jeffie's mom, Melody, was around she constantly warned him not to bother his dad and would tell him that he didn't like kids. Jeffery's drive to please everybody was strong and he always was happy to satisfy his father's needs. As Jeffie grew older his mother wanted to be a part of his life. His father thought it would be good if Jeffie go and see his mother in Virginia. When he arrived at the airport Melody was late picking him up, which only proved her untrustworthiness even more. After she picked him up, she brought him to the most beautiful home, which belonged to "Gambo" which was Melody's grandmother also, Jeffie's great-grandmother. When he gets into his room, he immediately falls asleep. The next morning him and his mom spend some time together and get to know each other. Jeffery learns that Gambo is a very wealthy woman who thinks strongly about family heritage and is very old fashioned. Jeffery leaves to go back home with the professor and constantly thinks about his mom and when he is going to go back. He writes her the entire year but she never writes back. When summer comes around, he decides to go back to his moms. There, things aren't the same as they were last time. On this visit he meets Melody's boyfriend, Max, who is rude and very aggressive towards Jeffie. When he goes to see Gambo, she isn't the same either. Sometime throughout the year she had a stroke and was always sick in bed. With his mom busy with Max and so Jeffie left. Soon he and the Professor start to bond. What we didn't know was the Professor was writing a book. He published that book, which gave him a lot of extra money. Jeffie and the Professor move and there Jeffie meets new people which was odd for him because he was never social. Jeffie's life was going good until Melody comes back. This is when the book gets emotional. I thought this book was very well written with an amazing amount of detail. If you do read this book though, you cannot just "read". You have to feel what Jeffie is feeling, think what he is thinking and put yourself in every situation he does. A Solitary Blue did live up to my expectations and defiantly meets the Newberry Honor expectations as well. If you ever read A Solitary Blue, you will not be disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
bigmacOP More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was very unique but very good. The way it toke you from the beginning and brought you to the end of Jeff's encounters with his mother. The way his feelings would change when he was not with his mother then when he was how he would slowly grow away from her till her wanted no part of her. The way Jeff all way had the same amount of heart to give but how it switched from his mom to his dad and from his imagination to reality. This is why I loved this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I greatly enjoyed the book A Solitary Blue for many reasons. First off the detail of the book and the overall use of describing was there. In most books some parts of the details are unnecessary and not used in the book. In this book all the words had a purpose. There purpose was to not only continue on this wonderful story, but also connect you to it. I, in many cases, found myself second guessing some of my opinions on certain things that appeared in the book. Not only did I connect with the details but also with the characters. I really felt for Jeff's, the main character, struggle with his parents separated and living with his professor father. But, I also felt for the father or the "professor" when he was being overruled by his wife. Each character had his or her own personality, opinions, and behaviors that influenced his or her part in the story. I felt that the story was put in a great order also. Things in the past were shown that greatly influenced the book even to the end. A Solitary Blue was a wonderful book to read and experience and I recommend it to all book lovers of any genre.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago