I’m continuing my reread through Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman Cycle with Book 5, Sons from Afar. Books 1 and 2 focused on oldest sister Dicey, Books 3 and 5 spun out to focus on supporting characters, and Book 4 was a prequel. This one finally brings us back into the heart of the Tillerman family, but shifts focus (as the title suggests) onto Dicey’s two brothers.
Six years have passed since Book 2. James is sixteen and Sammy is twelve, both struggling with identity, how they fit in (or don’t) and where they’re going in life. James latches onto the idea that he can learn about himself by learning about his father, who left the family before Sammy was even born. James drags Sammy along on a quest (mostly metaphorical, but there’s some travel) trying to find answers about what kind of man their father was.
This is another book that’s more about character than it is about plot. The search for information gives it some thread of focus, but mostly it’s about the character of the two boys. Trying to find out about their father is, not very subtly, really about finding themselves, and I think James at least even knows that.
James has always been the smart one, but struggles to make friends and sees his intelligence as a barrier between himself and others. Sammy is popular at school, but under his friendly exterior he has a tough determination to go his own way and not really be attached. Like Dicey and Bullet before them, James and Sammy are both loners of a sort, but different kinds from their sister and uncle. For James it’s not by choice, and for Sammy it’s almost a hidden loner status. He’s like Bullet in some ways, not letting anyone make him care about anything, except with the social graces to get on with people on a surface level that Bullet lacked.
James and Sammy do uncover some information about their father, and in the process find things that they each do (or don’t) have in common with him. Voigt takes an unusual and I think somewhat daring direction with the quest for answers, though. This isn’t a story about children tracking down a lost parent, and there’s definitely no sappy and sentimental conclusion where all is forgiven and made right. The quest leads them more to a place of accepting a non-answer, and yet there’s resolution in that and it still felt satisfying.
I think it was satisfying because it was never really about the plot. It’s about the characters’ self-discoveries, and even if they can’t learn very much about their father, they learn more about themselves.
Like the earlier books, this deals in spots with hard questions, but ultimately is about overcoming, about family, and about embracing identity. I liked this installment much better than Book 4, and look forward to reading the final book soon!
Author’s Site: http://www.cynthiavoigt.com/
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Buy it here: Sons from Afar