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Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr

Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Gem & Dixie is the new novel from renowned young adult author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr—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 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.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr has written her most personal and affecting book yet—an unforgettable story of breaking apart and of coming together again.

Goodreads Summary

I loved this story despite it not including romance (big step for me). Gem and Dixie are two sisters who are very different in terms of personality, looks, and desires. Gem has always seen herself as the helper and somewhat "mother" to Dixie due to their own mother's drug and alcohol abuse and inability to function, at times. Dixie used to see Gem in that way, too; however, it all changed as Dixie grew older and cooler and could use her charm and looks to get people to buy her things and food. Gem dreams of getting away and doesn't believe their mother or father (absent for the longest time) will ever change. She sees the school counselor and randomly does or doesn't talk to him. Gem is labelled as damaged. When their absent father returns, Gem knows that things are going to change...especially when she finds the backpack filled with money stashed by her suspect father under her own bed.

Gem and Dixie's characters were remarkably complex. The author captured the angst and sorrow of forgotten and neglected teens. The pair's resilience and unique ways of dealing with their lives will capture the readers' attention and force the reader to become very invested in these two girls. I couldn't predict the ending and spent a lot of time worrying for Gem in particular. I loved the inserted backstories of Gem and Dixie's heritage and family history (written by Gem for the school counselor).

The only part I wasn't sure I liked in this book involved Kip and the last portion of the book. While I liked Kip's character, I felt like she was a bit out of place or that the author had reached for yet another theme and not quite fit it into the other present themes. The closeness and relationship between Gem and Dixie just wasn't as present or important in the last part despite that being what I thought was the main part of the plot.

4 Stars

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