Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley

Trowbridge Road

Marcella Pixley, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 6, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10 and up

Themes: Mother and daughter, Family relationships, Aids, Grief, Mental illness, Bullying, Domestic Abuse, Friendship, Community, Hope, Magic

Book Jacket Synopsis:

It’s the summer of ’83 on Trowbridge Road, and June Bug Jordan is hungry. Months after her father’s death from complications from AIDS, her mother has stopped cooking and refuses to leave the house, instead locking herself away to scour at the germs she believes are everywhere. June Bug threatens this precarious existence by going out into the neighborhood, gradually befriending Ziggy, an imaginative boy who is living with his Nana Jean after experiencing troubles of his own. But as June Bug’s connection to the world grows stronger, her mother’s grows more distant — even dangerous — pushing June Bug to choose between truth and healing and the only home she has ever known.

Trowbridge Road paints an unwavering portrait of a girl and her family touched by mental illness and grief. Set in the Boston suburbs during the first years of the AIDS epidemic, the novel explores how a seemingly perfect neighborhood can contain restless ghosts and unspoken secrets. Written with deep insight and subtle lyricism by acclaimed author Marcella Pixley, Trowbridge Road demonstrates our power to rescue one another even when our hearts are broken.

Why I like this book:

Marcella Pixley has written a poignant novel, that is both heart wrenching and beautiful. Although it is set in the 80s, it is relevant because Pixley doesn’t side step heavy topics like mental illness, neglect, closet homosexuals, homophobia, AIDS, bullying and domestic abuse. Trowbridge Road will appeal to a large range of readers who are coping with secrets and family issues. And they will find hope, courage and love.

June Bug’s first-person narrative is powerful and pulls no punches. She is sad because she has lost her  father from AIDS, and her fragile mother is drifting further into depression, spending her days in bed. The only time her musical mother seems calm and peaceful is when she picks up her bow and plays her cello. When Uncle Toby brings June Bug food once a week, her mother goes into a cleaning frenzy and scours the house after he leaves with bleach — germs are the enemy. There is no one to care for June Bug. Her circumstances are heartbreaking, but she manages to remain a brave and resilient protagonist.

The relationship between June Bug and Ziggy is believable and unforgettable. Ziggy has his own problems. His mother is in an abusive relationship and he’s bullied by kids because of his long red hair, quirky clothing and his smelly, pet ferret perched on his head. He’s come to live with Nana Jean, who provides, love and stability for Ziggy — something June Bug desperately wants.  June Bug and Ziggy understand and accept each other unconditionally. They become best friends and create their own  imaginary world in the woods behind Nana Jean’s house — the ninth dimension — where they escape the pain of their lives. Pixley’s novel reminds me a bit of The Bridge to Terabithia.

Trowbridge Road is richly textured, lyrical and beautifully penned. I love June Bug’s description of Nana Jean’s kitchen the first time she’s invited to breakfast. “Nana Jean’s kitchen smelled like the gossip of garlic and bacon and oregano. It smelled like the laughter of sun-dried tomatoes and sausages and cheese. The recipes whispered to each other from the glazed windows to the spaces between floorboards to the countertops. We have fed the children and grandchildren in here. We meals. We blessed, blessed meals.  I entered like Alice on the threshold of Wonderland, or Dorothy taking her first steps into the Emerald City — the prickling feeling that I was about to enter something glorious.” (Pg. 185)  Verdict: This is a winner.

Make sure you check out the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, where she discusses AIDS in 1983 and mental illness.

Marcella Pixley is the author of three critically acclaimed books for young adults, including Ready to Fall. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for poetry and holds a mast of letters from Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. She teaches writing to middle-schoolers in Massachusetts, where she lives with her family.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

21 thoughts on “Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley

  1. I can’t remember any story dealing with someone dying of AIDS. This sounds like a powerful story that kids going through the pandemic can relate to. Thanks for sharing it this week.


    • It is a powerful story, but it really focuses more on mental illness. I remember the 80s-90s, the fear and misinformation around AIDS, until treatments appeared. Kids today living through the pandemic, will benefit from the story.


  2. I’m sure I would like this one as Bridge to Terabithia was the book that got me hooked on MG. Trowbridge Road is an issue driven novel kids with similar problems would relate. The one parent dying trope is one used a lot in books, but this has a refreshing new angle and time period. Thanks for featuring on MMGM


    • Yes, I agree with you. The book has a refreshing new angle with the time period — which doesn’t seem like a long time ago. But, mental illness is the strong theme in the book for June Bug. Her imagination and friendship with Ziggy keep her sane. I think you would enjoy this book. Just saw Ms. Yingling’s comment that it has been nominated for a National Book Award. And it will be released to the public tomorrow.


    • I wrote my review at least a month ago, but waited to run it closer to its released date tomorrow. It’s a gripping story about a young girl who really would like to be part of a healthy family.


    • Thanks for telling me that Trowbridge Road has made the shortlist for the National Book Award. You know students better than anyone, but it would be a helpful story for a teen dealing with mental illness and AIDS — agree with you about needing more books about AIDS during the 80s. Different time.


  3. Wow—this book sounds gorgeous! I’ve seen very few books talk about AIDS, so that’s nice to see, and the excerpt you posted is just stunning—what an amazing metaphor! Thank you for the wonderful review!


    • Thank you! The 80s-90s don’t seem that long ago, but they were interesting times, which the author beautifully captured. I was very pleased to see the mention of AIDS in the story because there was so much fear. The story really centers around her mother’s decline after her father dies from AIDS. June Bug has big secrets and is really on her own. I loved that excerpt because it spoke to everything June Bug didn’t have in her life and desperately wanted — and it shows the authors beautiful writing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Compelling story for young people who may be dealing with mental illness in their families or know of someone who is. We need more stories like this. And the setting and time period are interesting.


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