Peggy DeBlois talks Wednesday about her book “The Toll Road North” at the Franco Center in Lewiston. The novel explores the Franco American experience in the 1960s and 1970s in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — When Peggy DeBlois embarked on writing her first novel, she knew it would take place in her hometown of Lewiston.

Copies of  “The Toll Road North,” a novel by Peggy DeBlois, are displayed Wednesday during her discussion of the book at the Franco Center in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Informed by her childhood memories, DeBlois’ book, “The Toll Road North,” explores the Franco American experience in 1960s and 1970s Lewiston. But while the book has many recognizable locations and features, DeBlois stressed during a talk at the Franco Center on Wednesday that her book is purely fiction.

Still, she said, she couldn’t help but incorporate scenes based on cherished memories from her childhood.

“I really feel strongly that it’s such an overlooked community in Maine,” she said. “There’s so much potential here, and I just feel like the community is so vibrant, and people just don’t realize it.”

DeBlois’ book follows Lewiston native, Dee, who returns to her hometown to visit Bates College with her son. But while eating at Luiggi’s Pizzeria, she and her son are taken hostage.

“When Dee recognizes the gunman, she is forced to face her secret-filled past,” the book synopsis reads. “The French-Canadian, Catholic community of her youth is filled with betrayals, abandonment, and secret pregnancies. How will she reveal her shameful past to her husband, son, and friends?”


Her book examines themes like the anglicization of French names, the strength of French Canadian women and the deep ties between church and community.

Growing up, she remembers, most people didn’t identify themselves by where they lived, but by the parish they attended. For DeBlois, it was Holy Cross Church.

“I do think that that says a lot about us, that we grew up identifying with our church,” she said. “That was sort of the center of our community.”

Peggy DeBlois, left, signs a copy of her book “The Toll Road North” Wednesday at the Franco Center in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Names, too, are a central theme in the book, according to DeBlois.

“People change their name and change what they want to be called, and we probably have all experienced some of that,” she said.

The main character chooses to shorten her French name to simply “Dee.” After returning to Lewiston, she’s called by her full name, which “sort of sets off a whole string of memories for her to be called her actual given French name,” DeBlois said.


During the talk, she read passages from her book describing the intimate ties between neighbors, the beloved bean suppers hosted by the local churches and the rigidity of Catholic school classes.

Peggy DeBlois talks Wednesday about her novel “The Toll Road North” to a crowd at the Franco Center in Lewiston. The book explores the Franco American experience in 1960s and 1970s in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“The streets are quiet this early in the morning in the small central Maine city,” she read from her novel. “Even though the turnpike exit was only four blocks away, just by the new McDonald’s, the city did not have commuter traffic. People who lived here worked here, maybe on the other side of town or downtown in the mills, but close enough to come home for lunch.”

Some of the book was even written in Luiggi’s. Her novel offered the perfect excuse to visit the iconic Lewiston restaurant and eat Fergys for weeks on end, she said, adding that staff have been very supportive.

“They have no concern that I put a shooting in their store,” DeBlois said, eliciting a burst of laughter from attendees. “But really, they’ve been so nice to me.”

“The Toll Road North” is available at Quiet City Books on Lisbon Street, at Sherman’s Maine Coast Book shops and on Amazon.

In 2024, DeBlois hopes to publish her second book, which she said will also be set in Lewiston.

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