|Photo by Jill Goldman Photography|
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Trowbridge Road, and for your character June Bug Jordan?
A: I grew up in Newton Highlands, a town near Boston, Massachusetts, that seemed to be perfect on the outside. If you walked down the street and looked at the houses and the lawns, you would think every family was whole and perfect and that every child was content.
But the truth of every neighborhood is that families are imperfect. There is no way to know what is going on behind those doors. When I grew up, my father was very ill, my mother was dealing with depression and I myself was struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I wanted to write a story about how a seemingly normal family can be thrown into crisis by illness and grief and how sometimes as children we need to be courageous in order to find the help and the connections we need to thrive.
Q: The novel focuses in part on the issues of AIDS and mental health. Did you need to do any research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: I did a lot of research about AIDS to help me understand the timeline and how in the early years of the disease, there was a great deal of misinformation, prejudice, and secrecy surrounding the virus which among other things, reflected our country's widespread prejudice and discrimination against homosexuality.
People did not really understand how the virus was spread, and there was an almost hysterical fear surrounding discussion of transmission and spread.
I picked 1983 as the year for my story to take place, because by 1983, the virus was just becoming part of the national conversation. People were scared to touch or go near AIDS victims and as a result many people died alone and abandoned by their families.
As a person who has dealt with mental health struggles my entire life, a lot of my research for that part of Trowbridge Road had more to do with memory and soul-searching than research.
I did spend quite a lot of time on the National Association for Mental Illness website learning about statistics for mental illnesses in the United States and discovered that in 2018, 19.1 percent of adults and 16.5 percent of children under the age of 18 reported that they had suffered from a diagnosed mental health disorder.
I had no idea that when Trowbridge Road finally came out in 2020, we would be faced with a new virus with its own set of fears and prejudices surrounding it.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I want readers to realize that even when it seems like the world is crumbling around you, it is possible to find friendship and love. June Bug uses her wonderful imagination and indomitable sense of courage to rescue herself when her world is turning upside down. When her own house stops being a shelter of peace, she looks outside and discovers that she has what she needs inside her to heal and be whole.
If we are lucky, we can find relatives like Uncle Toby, friends like Ziggy Karlo, and neighbors like Nana Jean to take us in and to feed our bodies and spirits.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have a couple of different stories in the works right now. One is a middle grade ghost story in verse set in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Another is a realistic contemporary novel that tells the story of a working-class family and what happens to their relationships when they all quarantine together in a tiny house during the first months of coronavirus.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I hope my readers will see themselves in the books I write. My deepest prayer is that Trowbridge Road will find its way into the hands of readers who need to learn that they are not alone. I want them to find the courage to tell their own difficult and imperfect family stories with a strong, proud voice.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb