This review is also available on my blog, Read Till Dawn.
After a string of pretty lousy selections at the Little Free Library within walking distance of my house, I was just about ready to give up putting in the effort to go over there and swap out my books. When I pulled out Defining Dulcie, I sighed and shrugged – I figured it was the best of bad options, and would turn out as mediocre as the other books I’d gotten there.
When I actually read it, though, I realized that I’d been gravely mistaken. This is a very good book, one I’m so glad to have read.
I know that Dulcie’s mother means well, but I can’t help but hate her for the way she rips Dulcie away from everything she knows and loves. That’s why, when she prepares to sell Dulcie’s dad’s car, I can totally relate with Dulcie’s impulse decision to steal the car and drive cross-country to go back to her home. I am most definitely a fan of the familiar, of being comforted by what I can feel and see and touch; being ripped away from everything my father had ever owned in that way would feel to me (the way it does to Dulcie) like I was losing him all over again.
I really love Dulcie’s grandfather, who takes her in once she gets back to her hometown. He’s the kind of grandfather everyone wants to have: warm, funny, loving, understanding – and above all else he’s simply just kind. He takes in Roxanne, a cheerful but wounded rising senior who’s helping out at the school during the summer so she can spend as much time as possible away from her abusive mother at home.
And yes, I said “helping out at the school.” There is a school involved, even though the story’s set during the summer. But Dulcie’s grandfather isn’t a principal, or a teacher, or even some sort of summer volunteer; no, he’s a janitor. And so was Dulcie’s father, until he accidentally mixed some cleaning chemicals that shouldn’t have been mixed and wound up dead on the bathroom floor. Yikes. It’s very interesting watching Dulcie’s grandfather, and reading memories about her father, because it’s clear that both men take/took a great sense of pride and accomplishment in their responsibility to keep the school pleasant and clean. I haven’t read too many books, frankly, about kids whose parents hold jobs that are traditionally viewed as being menial; I kind of wish I read more of them now, because it lends a really interesting perspective to things.
So yes, I do recommend Defining Dulcie. Don’t let its small size and older release date fool you: it’s a powerful, well-written novel about parental relationships, life goals, and – above all – dealing with grief. I truly enjoyed reading this little gem I found in a Little Free Library, and I hope you get the chance to read it too.