Our July featured title is Stillwater by Mary Jo Hazard! Since the novel’s release on July 7, it has been regarded highly. Stillwater debuted as a number one new best seller on Amazon in the category of Young Adult books about suicide and it has received glowing reviews. One Amazon reviewer wrote, “this tightly written coming of age story reminded me of To Kill A Mockingbird… On some levels, it’s an easy read and appropriate for the beach, but it will definitely make you think about your own life and how you’ve had to balance love with letting go.”
A coming-of-age story set in an idyllic village in upstate New York in the 1950s. Stillwater is the perfect summer read. Though written for young adults, the book also appeals to adult readers. Stillwater doesn’t hold back from important topics; it deals with mental illness and the devastating effects that it causes for the person, their family and friends. The protagonist, twelve- year-old Grace, and her two best friends cope with these challenges during one hot summer filled with surprises, heartache, and fun under the watchful eyes of the townspeople.
We asked author Mary Jo some questions about her writing process, inspiration, and more!
Stillwater is a “coming of age” novel. Is the character of Grace in any way autobiographical?
Grace is her own person, but I’m sure there’s a bit of me in her. My friends and I would dash out of the house after breakfast, grab our bikes, and take off. We’d build forts in the woods, swim in the river, play pickup baseball games, and drag ourselves home at dinnertime. Grace lives this idyllic life, at least on the surface. Like me, she also grapples with her father’s mental illness and the way it affects her life.
A central theme in Stillwater is mental health awareness. Why do you believe that encouraging discussion around mental health in children and young adults is so important?
Discussions about mental health save lives. The suicide rate among children and young adults has skyrocketed. According to the Center for Disease Control, from 2007 to 2017 the suicide rate of 10 to 14-year-olds, the youngest group, almost tripled. According to the 2019 statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 15-34. Nearly 90 percent of the people who died by suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition when they took their lives. Encouraging children and young adults to share their feelings and concerns is helpful. Honest and direct communication can prevent suicides.
The setting of Stillwater is rich and atmospheric. How did the town of Stillwater come to be?
I grew up in Stillwater—a small town on the Hudson River in upstate New York. Historically, Stillwater was the site of the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, which took place in the northern part of the town during the Revolutionary War. It was a factory town at one time with factories lining the river banks, but over the years most of the factories burnt down.
Stillwater is available for purchase now! To learn more about Mary Jo, visit https://maryjo-hazard.squarespace.com/