Gem & Dixie
by Sara Zarr
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 to save herself, she may have to sever the one bond she’s tried so hard to keep.
Another extremely sad, realistic fiction read for Emily this year. What a doozy. Seriously.
Zarr does so many things heartrendingly well in this story that I resented her a little when I was finished. This book stuck with me. I both hated it and loved it which is exactly the reason why I would recommend it to teens who enjoy gritty, real stories that tug at your heart.
Gem’s life is dirty and ugly. Her mother finds solace in the drugs that Dixie buys for her at school, and her absentee father promises change and relief but only brings more chaos and destruction into their lives. Over the course of just a few short days, Gem realizes that to save herself she has to walk away from the sister that she loves – the one person in her life who has never really let her down. There were several moments where Gem’s words and actions broke my heart. This is also a story about poverty, and for Gem that often led to hunger and fear. There was no direct or specific physical or emotional abuse. The parents weren’t intentionally neglectful or hateful, but so many actions and choices built up over the years that left Gem scarred. In one particular moving scene with a school counselor, Gem calls attention to this and asks how bad things have to get in order for someone to step in and help.
This is a short, quick read which makes it more impressive. Zarr does an excellent job with character development in such a short time, and while there is no clear resolution to the problems Gem faces, the ending is hopeful.
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