Gem & Dixie is a wonderful book about the power of sisterhood and what it means to take care of those who are closest to you, even if that isn’t always the easiest thing in the world.
Gem has been taking care of Dixie for as long as she can remember – her parents have never been there for them, and in fact, they split up years ago, leaving their mother to care for them, although she doesn’t do a very good job of it. Gem has always looked out for her younger sister, taking care of her, feeding her, making sure she does well in school – while their father is out there somewhere chasing his dreams and their mother struggles with jobs, drinking, and drug use.
“She used to need me to take care of her, and I liked doing it. I liked doing it because, then, I thought I was the one who could. Even though nobody was taking care of me.”
It’s been hard for the both of them, especially as they grew up and Gem found herself alone – while her mother was sometimes coherent enough to take care of Dixie and befriend her, and Dixie has even recently gotten a letter from their father, while Gem seems to be ignored more often than not. Even at school, Dixie is the pretty one with friends, while Gem tends to be more of a loner, borrowing money for lunch so she can eat, because there isn’t any food at home for them.
One day, when their father comes back, he buys them groceries and tries to give their mother money to help take care of them, but she won’t take it – and she even throws all of the food away, even though she can’t afford to buy them any more. Before their mother kicks him out of the apartment, he hides a bag full of money under their bed – more money than either of them have ever seen before. Trying not to think about where the money might have come from, Gem forms a plan – what if they were take that money and leave? Surely they could make a better life for themselves. Gem and Dixie check into a fancy hotel and try to figure out how they can make their plan work.
“I wondered if she’d ever forgive me for this whole mess. Everything that happened, it was only because we wanted our parents to be better, to know how to take care of us. We could at least try to forgive ourselves for wanting that.”
When things don’t go as planned, and their father becomes frantic wanting to know where the money has gone, Gem and Dixie are faced with either carrying out their plan or going home to face what they already know – disappointment, struggle, and a lonely world where their parents seem to forget that they exist.
I’ve read a ton of books about kids and teens who have struggles at home, and not too many of them have stood out to me the way that Gem & Dixie has. It’s the first book that I’ve picked up by Sara Zarr, and it won’t be my last – that’s for sure! As an author, Ms. Zarr has plenty of talent and knows how to draw in readers, making the book one to get lost in and remember.
This hauntingly emotional novel is told from Gem’s point of view, and gives readers a glimpse into their lives as they struggle for the simplest things, such as finding money to buy food for lunch. There are several flashbacks from when they were small kids, and some from before their dad left them – back when they felt there might still be some potential for them to be a happy family. Reading about the struggles of Gem and her sister is really difficult because it makes you realize that there are a lot of kids out there who are actually struggling in this way.
Watching a parent struggle with drug and alcohol abuse is never easy, especially when they are the only parent and they have children who rely on them for care and the fulfillment of basic needs, such as food and a place to stay. Gem and Dixie’s mom struggles from addiction, and as the story progresses, she even starts to ask Dixie to get her drugs from people in her school. The ugly reality of this is that it really is an issue for some kids to have to deal with these sorts of things on their own, and then when you throw an addicted parent into the mix, it becomes even more heart wrenching.
And that’s exactly what this book was, in so many ways – heart wrenching. Reading this tore me apart inside, but at the same time, the bond that Gem and Dixie shared from years of only having each other was the kind of bond that can mend a broken heart. I’m not going to lie – Dixie could be mean as anything to Gem, but deep down, you could tell that she really loved her older sister. Gem, on the other hand, tried her hardest to care for Dixie since the two of them were young children, and even as teenagers she does nothing but look out for Dixie to make sure she is well taken care of.
If you’re looking for an emotional read with the beauty of sisterhood, this is a really great one to pick up. The characters are full of personality (and sass, in Dixie’s case), and it portrays a situation that a lot of kids have to face, making it really hit close to home.