Weekend Pick for December 16, 2022
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Dr. Susan Densmore- James
The Book Dealer
I am not one to pay for internet service on an airplane (especially now since a nice rib roast costs approximately as much as my first vehicle). I use my travel time to decompress and read books that I download prior to departing home, deliberately escaping email and online work. I found myself quite surprised when after devouring the anthology Ab(solutely) Normal: Short Stories that Smash Mental Health Stereotypes, I did the unthinkable: I paid the price to download every one of Marcella Pixley’s books. Every. Single. One.
If you read my last review, you know it was Marcella’s story in the anthology edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter and Rocky Callen that made me break down and cry in seat 17A on Flight 1953 to Anaheim. Her story spoke to me. Not only could I relate to it emotionally (it literally broke me into pieces and put me back together again), but there is something quite lyrical about the writing of this author. Lyrical and beautiful.
Surprisingly, I had not read Trowbridge Road penned by Pixley, as I read thousands of books yearly, and I generally devour any middle or YA book that is longlisted/short listed for the National Book Award. Somehow, this exquisitely written and magical piece of literature escaped me. I am so thankful the anthology led me to her work, and I have already shared this title with many middle school classes (as well as my own university students, as this book is a must for every human).
The one godsend for June Bug is the arrival of Ziggy, an imaginative boy who has been given up by his mother and left on the doorstep of his loving grandmother, Nana Jean. From day 1, Ziggy is the target of the bullies who ride bikes down Trowbridge Road because of his long, red hair, quirky dress and personality, and his pet ferret, who can be seen constantly perched on his shoulder. Yet, June Bug envies the newcomer to the neighborhood because of what she sees is the perfect life: unconditional love and stability from the matriarch, Nana Jean. June Bug wistfully tells the reader, “It was clear the one thing in this world Nana Jean most wanted to give Ziggy was the gift of everyday-ness.” And that is what June Bug desires most—a normal, healthy, and happy homelife with her mother becoming mentally well. June Bug even tells us she would rather go hungry than see her mother in this state.
When Ziggy first arrives to town, June Bug watches Nana Jean and Ziggy from her treetop hideaway, but eventually, the kids become fast friends and co-adventurers. The bond between these two lovely souls is heartwarming. They create an imaginary world in the woods behind their houses—the 9th Dimension—where they escape to be free from the pain in their hearts.
Uncle Toby, the brother of June Bug’s deceased father, knows the extent of the issues in the house, so he visits once a week to ensure June Bug is fed and safe. The seriousness of June Bug’s heartbreaking circumstances intensifies as the story progresses, and her mother falls deeper into despair and depression. June Bug must make some very adult decisions (which she does masterfully), as she teaches us the true meaning of family.
When I finished, I sat in my airplane seat, hugging this book close to my heart. It made me think of all the young students I have taught over the course of my lifetime. So many, despite every possible traumatic obstacle thrown at them by the adults in this world, are survivors. I have seen their bravery and perseverance to survive surpass that of so many adults in this world. Ziggy and June Bug are a reminder of these students--wise beyond their years. They possess a sense of wonder about the remarkable world around us. They are still trusting, even when they have no reason to be. As Ziggy says to his true-blue friend, June Bug, “Remember June Bug. There is more to this world than what you can see with your eyes.” Such big truths revealed by these artfully and realistically created characters. These kids never give up on love, courage, or hope, and Pixley showcases their qualities in such a glorious fashion! Trowbridge Road, June Bug, and Ziggy will always remain on my mind and in my heart. This lovely story is not to be missed!