The Education of Dixie Dupree
Perhaps because—in this southern coming-of-age story set in 1969—Dixie, the eleven-year-old narrator with a propensity for lying, tells her story in a pretty much straight forward manner. And the reader knows from the first three sentences what the problem is:
My diary was my best friend until I gave it up as key witness against Uncle Ray. Mr. Evans, the prosecuting lawyer who would go to court on my behalf, showed up on our doorstep here in Alabama all the way from New Hampshire just to get it. I had no idea it was so important, but he told Mama it was, even though everybody already knew what had happened.So, we know right away that something bad happened to Dixie, her Uncle Ray was responsible, it happened in New Hampshire, and that Dixie lives in Alabama. Those three sentences tell a lot. Plus, they assure us that Dixie came through this horrible event and is safe now. Sometimes it's good to know the ending in advance.
Dixie's family is dysfunctional. Her mother isn't happy and is sometimes abusive to Dixie, sometimes loving. Dixie's parents fight a lot and her father drinks. Dixie doesn't know exactly how her parents met. Somehow her mother left New Hampshire and appeared in Alabama where Dixie's father immediately fell in love with her and they were soon married. Dixie's older brother AJ soon was born. But in 1969, Dixie's mother talks about New Hampshire and how she misses it.
When a tragic event ensues, Dixie's Uncle Ray comes down from New Hampshire to help out his sister. AJ is impressed with Ray's car and money; Dixie isn't impressed with how Ray is putting his hands on her. She tells AJ, he but doesn't believe her—everyone knows what a liar Dixie is.
When Dixie's mother gets some insurance money, she buys a car and the family goes to visit her parents in New Hampshire. Dixie and AJ take turns riding with Ray and wit their mother. Ray makes advances toward Dixie when she's in his car.
In New Hampshire, things get better. Dixie's grandparents adore her and AJ, Dixie has her mother's old room which is wonderful, Uncle Ray is back with Aunt Trish and their son. But things go horribly bad one day. . . .
Despite what happens to her, Dixie is resilient and bounces back. And she learns several family secrets that explain a lot.
One strength of this book is that it's told in Dixie's voice and filtered through her experiences and perceptions. The book is well-plotted, with twists and turns that eventually fall into place. And it's good southern fiction. I liked it a lot.
Despite the narrator's age, this novel isn't for middle graders; its subject matter—sexual abuse and a dysfunctional family—is definitely for older readers. But this debut novel, published las month by Kensington and already a USA Today and IndieBound bestseller, is definitely worth reading.
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