Book Review: Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr

Title: Gem & Dixie

Author: Sara Zarr

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 288

Rating: B

Recommended?: Yes

This book grew on me. I remember enjoying Sara Zarr’s novel Story of a Girl, but it’s been literally years since I read it. Gem & Dixie is the story of two very different sisters who live with their unreliable addict mother. Their dad is often out of the picture and one day he comes back and buys them a bunch of stuff, giving them a taste of a kind of material comfort they’ve never had with their mom.

Soon afterwards they find out that dad has a stash of money he definitely obtained illegally, and Gem steals it and runs away from home, roping the reluctant Dixie into it. Gem (the older sister and the more introverted one) has given up on her parents, while Dixie still holds out hope that maybe they can change. While hiding out in a nice hotel they learn more about each other and tentatively begin to repair their wounded relationship.

I think I read this book too soon after reading Take Me With You When You Go and Find Layla, two realistic YA novels about broken families and sibling relationships. After those this book felt a little too… familiar? I didn’t get into it as much as I might have if I hadn’t read those books one before. I didn’t personally connect with the characters in this book that much, but I appreciated that both of them were flawed human beings and neither of them were entirely in the ‘wrong’ when it came to their broken sibling relationship.

Gem was somewhat more likable than Dixie (plus she was the viewpoint character, so we only got her perspective on things that had happened) but they both felt like real people. I found myself wondering how the story would have been different if Dixie had gotten viewpoint chapters too, I kind of thought that was what they were going to do when I picked up the book. It was particularly interesting how they viewed their parents different.

The book also examined how abuse can look different for different families, and how sometimes emotional abuse and neglect can hurt as much as physical and sexual abuse. It did a good job of showing how Gem doubted herself about how bad her situation really was. I will definitely read more books by Sara Zarr and she’s got a strong ability to look into the inner lives of girls without her books feeling like generic ‘issue of the week’ problem novels.

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