WESTFORD – 11-year-old June Bug Jordan appears to have received a perfect and privileged upbringing.
But below the surface, June Bug is in trouble. Her father died of AIDS, a strange new disease ravaging the planet. Her mother may offer limited comfort, while trying to cope with her own grief and mental illness.
A new friend and the untapped power of creativity could provide June Bug with the strength she needs to face her fears and find her own path.
This is the premise of Trowbridge Road, a novel published by Candlewick Press which won honors in the Medium / Young Adult Literature category of the Massachusetts Book Awards.
The awards are presented by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, honoring state writers in five categories.
Author Marcella Pixley, a Westford resident and teacher in the Carlisle School District, recently shared her thoughts, including the challenges she thinks she faces in a new generation of young learners and readers.
Tell me about Trowbridge Road.
Trowbridge Road is about an 11 year old girl named June Bug Jordan who is going through a lot of hardship, especially trauma in her family.
Her father died of AIDS and her mother suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
June Bug has to … bond in other ways, and she befriends a boy who moves into her neighborhood, named Ziggy. Both create an imaginary world and create a kind of power.
It is a book for learning to be courageous and to tell your stories, so that you can heal.
What inspired you to write this book?
The book came from many different places. I grew up in Newton, Mass., And this is where the book takes place. In a way, the neighborhood in the book looks a lot like the neighborhood I grew up in.
Newton was a place … at least in the ’80s when the book takes place, which looks perfect on the outside … people go about their business, seeming their lives are comfortable and protected.
But I know now, as an adult, that a city that seems perfect has people in pain that no one knows … we all learn to hide our imperfections in our neighborhoods.
Although I didn’t go through all of June Bug’s trauma, I came from a complicated family. My dad … had heart failure and kidney failure, and he wasn’t expected to live very long. My mother was depressed by this constant threat of her passing away.
Like June Bug, I experienced the love that all families want to give their children, but that was … through the battle of the health and mental health issues the family faced.
I also suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression, just like June Bug’s mother … and I had a very, very rich fantasy life.
What did you think when you won this award?
It’s so wonderfully validating. You’re writing a book, and you don’t always know if it’s going to land with any attention. With Trowbridge Road, I feel like this is my soul book, and it was the validation that I needed and been looking for.
Has COVID posed challenges for you as a writer?
The book was due out in the world in December 2020, and because of the pandemic, we waited until the following October.
The book therefore launched into the world when the crisis was a little less mature. But it changed the way we handled the release of the book. I couldn’t do live readings. I had planned conferences and visits that were to become virtual.
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But in fact the virtual part of the Trowbridge Road launch has been interesting and satisfying in a different way, as there have been podcasts and videos, different kinds of opportunities as a writer.
The pandemic has been interesting as far as Trowbridge Road is concerned, as June Bug’s mother, in her fears about germs entering the house, mirrored fears of the pandemic.
Suddenly we are all faced with the fear of uncertainty. We all have to be careful what we have touched. The whole world woke up to the fears that exist in the book.
You are also a teacher. Do these worlds intersect?
I work full time as an eighth grade language arts teacher. What touches me is the ability to come to my students with the background of having written and revised, and taken comments, and had rejections.
My experiences as a working writer give me credibility as a teacher in a way that really helps me.
Drafts of all my stories are seen by the students. They give really good feedback because they don’t hold back. It also gives me the opportunity to see what they are going through, what needs to be written.
Right now, I think the mental health world needs to pay a lot more attention to the mental health needs of children and adolescents, especially after a year and a half that many of them have had.
I see the need for more books that normalize complicated families and mental health issues, so kids can say … “I’m not the only one struggling like this, and feeling sad sometimes. I don’t. am not the only person who has secrets to keep, that I need to learn to tell. “
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