A story of truths and lies, of good and bad, of fear and bravery, Donna Everhart’s The Education of Dixie Dupree is a moving narrative as fearless as its title character.
At just 11 years old, Alabama-bred Dixie Dupree is already an expert liar. The year is 1969, and since Dixie was old enough, her mama Evie—a woman who protected herself by withholding the truth—built a liar out of her. Sometimes these lies are to protect Evie, as Evie had implied in her own diary, years ago.
She lied. Just like I asked her to, but, what kind of life do I have when I have to ask my child to lie for me?” – Chapter 1
But sometimes these lies Dixie spews are lies without a bigger purpose other than to spite her equally intense mother, who misses her beloved New Hampshire—the home that had built her long before she’d begun to build this broken family.
She was writing about me. I’d been eight years old and I’d gone and got her in trouble with Daddy and Granny Dupree. It occurred to me this was when it had started, when we’d all begun to lose our way with each other. It happened so gradually, none of us saw it coming, until there was nothing left but empty conversations and useless arguments inside a house that had anticipated love, but had only seen sadness.” – Chapter 1
It isn’t until Dixie finds herself in a dangerous situation with her Uncle Ray, who came to help her family in their time of financial need but turns out to be an even bigger nightmare, that all these lies come back to bite her. From the beginning, it’s clear that something about Uncle Ray isn’t quite right, and the reader learns along with Dixie just what kind of man he really is.
A novel that tells the story of childhood abuse victims and those who don’t believe them, The Education of Dixie Dupree doesn’t hold back. Its use of a child narrator was a wise choice. With a theme as serious as childhood abuse, in all its facets and repercussions, it’s not an easy read, but telling such a gritty and honest story through the eyes of a child is an important reminder that even if everyone and everything seems corrupted and unredeemable, goodness remains.
When Dixie is first assaulted by her uncle, she tells her brother and receives nothing in response but doubt. Though the abuse doesn’t end there, Dixie’s confessions do, even when that means she has to tell bigger and bolder lies in response to the seemingly neverending questions from her friends and her teacher.
One night, after another day of her questions, I wrote: My teacher keeps asking the same thing as if she’s expecting a different answer. The only answers I’ve got are the ones I wish were true to begin with.” – Chapter 9
Doubts have been planted—would anyone truly believe her if she told what really happened? And if they do, without Uncle Ray’s help, how would her struggling family survive, and would her mother be punished for what happened?
A majority of the chapters end with a sentence or two from Dixie’s diary, a diary that ends up being the key piece of evidence toward proving that Dixie is telling the truth about Uncle Ray. Once the only place Dixie was honest with others and herself, after Dixie gives up these secrets, she must be honest in a whole new way, and it might just be this kind of expulsion of secrets that changes Dixie and her relationship with the truth for good.
A novel that, ultimately, tackles the question of what makes one leave a place they love: “Is it because they wanted to or because they had to?“ The Education of Dixie Dupree is is a perfect example of what makes a family—the good parts and the bad—what it means to hurt and what it means to be brave enough to heal.
The Education of Dixie Dupree is one of our fall/winter reads. View the full 2016 Fall/Winter Reading List here.