A quick story of two very different sisters who live in a run-down Seattle apartment with their late-night working, sometimes drug-using mom, who are basically expected to raise themselves. When their absent dad (who hasn’t paid child support in years) unexpectedly shows up and hides a backpack filled with over $30,000 under Gem’s bed, Gem sees it as an opportunity. Gem (the older sister - she is a Senior, Dixie is a Freshman) believes her life has been harder than Dixie’s. Gem is plain. Dixie is cute. Gem has no friends. Dixie has lots of friends. Gem has no confidence. Dixie might be too confident. Dad keeps in touch with Dixie. He never mentions Gem. Mom talks to Dixie and acts like they’re best friends. Mom almost seems intimidated by Gem. Gem takes Dad’s backpack and convinces Dixie to run away with her for a day or two. They can stay in a hotel and eat good food, get a good night’s sleep, and decide what to do. Dixie reluctantly agrees. What follows is a Seattle adventure where secrets are revealed and the sisters are able to truly know each other as they never have before. And it changes everything.
As a mom, this book was hard to read - especially the beginning when the girls were still at home being neglected. Once they got away from their parents for their adventure, I couldn’t put it down. I so wanted these girls to find some peace and hope for the future. They do. But it’s not an easy road. As a 25-year high school teacher, I’ve seen many students that I can tell are not cared for as much as others. In Gem & Dixie, Gem spends a lot of time with the school’s psychologist, Mr. Bergstrom. He cares about Gem but there’s only so much he can do. Here’s the problem - Gem and Dixie have a roof over their heads, they are fed regularly (although not three guaranteed meals a day), they are not abused, so, on paper, they are fine. They are not fine. But what can the system do? Without preaching or becoming “after-school special”, Sara Zarr brings to light the plight of those kiddos who fall through the cracks and made me think of the importance of the “it takes a village” mentality. This book reminds me how important it is for me to give extra love and attention to those kiddos who I know aren’t getting the love and attention they deserve at home. Gem asks Mr. Bergstrom, “... what does it take to be in danger? . . . are things not bad enough? Should things be worse for me before . . . before I can make them better?” It’s a question that shouldn’t be so hard to answer.