Gem & Dixie : When Friends and Sisters Part

Gem & Dixie

By Sara Zarr

Spoiler Alert!



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 that to save herself, she may have to sever the one bond she’s tried so hard to keep.  (Courtesy of

Adult Point of View

As the oldest sibling, I related to Gem. The feeling of responsibility of caring for my brother was part of what made me who I am. Unlike Gem, I had a loving and supportive family.

When I read a book like this, I have a meter going off in my head about how realistic everything is panning out. Gem’s inability to share what’s going on in her life, her withdrawal, and yearning for something more all ring true to me. Dixie is coping with the neglect in a different, but equally realistic way. She plays on her sexuality and social skills to get what she needs – even when that means throwing her sister under the proverbial bus.

I’d read some reviews about how some couch critiques think the ending fell apart and the money in the backpack was a useless plot deviation.

I disagree.

Was the road trip a little frantic? Yes! Because it showed them in a new environment and they didn’t know how to act or what to do. Taking them out of their home gave them an opportunity to imagine something different. Each sister took something different away from the experience. Gem could no longer live the fantasy (which was the belief someone would take care of them or the fantasy of living the posh life in the hotel or island). Dixie decided she needed to believe the fantasy that her parents would change.

What do people who grow up in poverty believe? That money will solve all their problems.
What else could money be a symbol for in their lives? Love. Money could be love lost, or a finite amount of love, or even disposable (thinking of Dixie and how she reacted). Could the money as easily represent people? They’d never had people to care for them and even this money couldn’t care for them. Even a hotel clerk would have stolen the money from them if given the opportunity – which is even worse than neglect to take advantage of someone.
Could the money represent lies? Gem had told herself that they could have a different life with money, but the money would slip through her fingers as easily as her father told a lie. Money seemed like the answer to her problems, but actually caring people, an education, and a job did more for her than a hand-out could have done.

One of the most tender moments in the book, for me, was when the school counselor tells Gem that he’s sorry he failed her.

“But…what does it take to be in danger?” I asked again, through even more tears. “What does that even mean? Are things not bad enough Should things be worse for me before…before I can make them better?”
I felt his hand on my arm, leading me back toward the chair. “No. No, they shouldn’t.” I sat down and he stood beside me keeping his hand gently on my arm. “I’m sorry, Gem. I think I failed you.” (P. 260-261)

This book was a tear jerker. It is for a YA audience. Drugs, alcohol, allusions to sex, and swearing are all present – but in a very realistic, non-glorified way. In the end, this is a story about finding your way through life. The sisters may part, but this is only the beginning of their story. I like to believe that Dixie will find her way too.

5 out of 5 stars

5 star

  • Michelle


About Tales Untangled

I am a mother of four children and have a passion for reading. I love sharing my treasury of books with my kids. I also do experiments in cooking which includes such things as Indian Tandoori Chicken slow-cooked in a tagine. I write stories and illustrate in ink.
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