After being evicted from their home in Massachusetts, a single mom parks a car containing her four kids at a mall and disappears into the night. Now the four abandoned siblings--Dicey(13), James(10), Maybeth(9) and Sammy(5) Tillerman--are left to ponder what to do next with no money, no caretaker and no place to go. Knowing a confrontation with authorities will only lead to the family's being split up, Dicey resolves to set out for the family's only other relative's known whereabouts--their never-before-seen Grandmother's home in Maryland. With no available means of transportation other than a token bus ride only taking them 20 miles or so, the foursome largely encounters the journey on foot, Dicey doing everything she can to keep everyone together and out of harm's way. Meeting with trouble, hardship and more than a few prying eyes becomes pretty routine as the Tillermans tread through mostly off road territory routinely coping with illness, hunger and bickering as they make their way to an uncertain destination amid an indeterminate future.
This is Voight's first novel in her Tillerman saga about four kids striving to stay a family amidst thwarted odds. With the the situation seen primarily through Dicey's eyes, the reader can't help but be drawn into an already pitiable situation only compounded by neglectful and indifferent adults. Voight manages to keep things in-bounds though, not overdoing any sentimentality or sympathy aspects of what, on the surface, might look like another sappy tear-jerker. The Tillermans are kids, plain and simple. And while they're rigorously challenged by largely adverse circumstances, it's not hard to interpret each as a child with like problems and issues rather than some Huck Finn or Johnny Tremain type elevated above the status of normal vulnerabilities.