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It's All In The Details: Brewster Author Publishes Historical Teen Novel

Deborah Rafferty Oswald fictionalizes several actual historical events in her first novel, The Girls of Haviland. Photo Credit: Contributed
Deobrah Rafferty Oswald hopes to get a sequel to The Girls of Haviland out by next summer. Photo Credit: Contributed

BREWSTER, N.Y. – Fans of historical fiction appreciate nothing more than accurate attention to detail. As a fan of the genre herself, Brewster resident Deborah Rafferty Oswald certainly does, and made it her mission to be historically accurate in her first full novel, The Girls of Haviland, published this past August and available at Amazon .

Oswald, a fifth grade teacher in North Salem, has been writing her whole life. She started what became The Girls of Haviland back in 1995 as a short story.

“I just kept at it,” she said. “I kept researching and writing. I have a profound interest in history – women’s history –and I’m particularly drawn to the World War I era.”

Before the days of the Internet, Oswald spent many an hour at her local library, going through microfiche of the now-defunct Brewster Standard newspaper editions from 1918 to 1919. She made note of articles from events that she found fascinating and incorporated them into her short stories – many of which were published in local magazines.

In fact, that’s how The Girls of Haviland began.

“My book was inspired by an archival photo in a local newspaper that showed a group of girls at the Drew Seminary for Ladies in Carmel, N.Y. I was drawn to one girl, the one face that looked far younger than the rest. I wondered what her story was and decided to invent one; she became Jay McKenna,” said Oswald.

Jay McKenna is the heroine of Oswald’s novel, a student at the Haviland School for Girls, loosely modeled on the Drew Seminary.

Even the mystery at the center of her story is based on a true event found in microfiche: the suicide by jumping out of a plane of a student at the Drew Seminary for Ladies.

“My understanding is that was the first documented case of suicide by plane,” said Oswald.

After reading contemporary news articles about a girl driven to suicide by cyberbullying, she decided to incorporate that into her story as well.

“So I started my book with a suicide by plane of a girl who is bullied,” said Oswald.

“The horror today of teen suicide, of even younger children being cyber-bullied to death, left an impression on me.”

Oswald spends vacations and summers writing and is currently working on a sequel.

For more information visit Oswald’s website at

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