In One Word: Redemptive
Cannonball Read Bingo Square: Old Series
So far, Jeff is a boy at school, who plays guitar and sings and has begrudgingly caught Dicey’s eye. This book takes us back in time in Jeff’s story, and we learn how he and his father came to live in Crisfield. It was a really interesting take on the series, to focus on Jeff (who we just met in the second book, and has so far been of periphery interest to Dicey the main character) and make him the protagonist. The split in this book was about 80% Jeff and 20% the Tillerman family but because we already know the Tillerman’s so well, their inclusion is seamless.
As for Jeff, he has earned his loner status fair and square, with a father who struggles to find his way and a mother who is the textbook definition of “piece of work” he does all he cans to make no waves. I challenge you to try to read about Jeff’s manipulative, selfish, narcissistic mother without clenching your jaw. She does a number on him and then does it over and over AND OVER again. It’s been a while since there was a fictional character I so thoroughly wanted to shake. Especially as a mother myself, it was hard to see him feel so discarded and question his own self-worth. But that’s what I like about Voigt: she doesn’t shy away from big feelings and hard topics and delivers impressive deep books that kids and adults alike can appreciate.
In Part Two of the book, once Jeff and his father move to Crisfield we see the Tillerman’s from his point of view, as he moves from being a spectator of his own life to an active participant in the world around him. There was a neat moment of connection where we learn that Jeff really wanted to take home economics, not mechanical drawing (as we know from book 2 of Dicey’s frustration with home economics because she wanted to take mechanical drawing) so Voight is already having these characters pull toward each other and sprinkle a bit of “opposites attract” foreshadowing in before they really have even met. In the end, we are back with the Tillerman’s ready for them to be the focus of the next book, as both Jeff and Dicey learn to expand their circles and let others in.