Thursday, June 22, 2017

Train I Ride by Paul Mosier

Rydr, 12 but very close to 13, has been living in Palm Springs, California with her not-terribly-warm grandmother because her drug addicted mother had already died of an overdose and she doesn’t know who her father is. But now, Grandma can’t take care of Rydr anymore, and so, she is being sent by train to live with a great uncle in Chicago whom she has never met. 

The trip from LA to Chicago is supposed to take 3 days, but it doesn’t take long for it to fall behind schedule, the longer for Rydr to get to know the wonderful assortment of eccentric characters. She will be accompanied by Dorothea, a “stickler for the rule” Amtrak employee, who is required to accompany minors like Rydr, but not take care of them.   

Because she has no money, it becomes incumbent on Rydr to figure out ways of getting food to eat. Day one finds her meeting Carlos, an elderly poet and crossword puzzle fan who shares his puzzles and his donut holes with her. Carlos rides the train in order to write his poetry.

Making her way down to the snack bar, Rydr meets Neal, the in-the-closet gay counter person who quickly figures out that she has no money and is very hungry, and who simply looks the other way when she pockets food to eat. And who genuinely looks forward to her visits to the snack bar, even though she constantly pretends she can’t remember his name and also tells him fabrications about her family life while secretly wishing she had a dad names Neal.

Among the Boy Scout troop traveling on the train are a group who invite Rydr to play an illegal game of Blackjack with them that night. Luckily, she mentions it to Neal, who gives her some important pointers on how to play. Unluckily, Dorothea makes Rydr give back all her winnings.

One of the illegal Boy Scout gamblers, nicknamed Tenderchunks by the boys who made him eat dog food, finds himself attracted to Rydr, and it seems the feeling is mutual. Like Rydr, Tenderchunks has always felt like a misfit and the two hit is off, if only for a short while. Compassionate Tenderchunks also has a bit of the poet in him, and before getting off the train, he gives Rydr his well read (and it turns out, valuable) copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, a anguished poetic protest to societal conformity.

Mixed in among Rydr’s adventures and encounters on the train, are flashbacks to her life with her mother, her grandmother and her therapist from Palm Springs, Dr. Lola. Rydr may have boarded the train with very little physical baggage, but she makes up for it with all her emotional baggage. And who could blame her for some acting out. Yet, Rydr has met, and emotionally formed a family with the people she has come to know on the train, and they, in turn, seem to see a young girl struggling with the rotten hand life has dealt her and are more than willing to lend their support.

This is a debut novel for Paul Mosier, and this coming of age story captures not just the turmoil of being a kid, but the particularly heartbreaking life so many are subject to nowadays, with elderly, tired and emotionally distant grandparents and parents with drug problems and overdosing. But as Mosier demonstrates with Rydr, kids can be resilient and sometimes, they can move forward in their lives. The novel may begin on an uncertain note, but as Rydr begins to discover who and what she is, it ends on a decidedly hopeful note. 

Ryder is of course not our protagonists real name. Her train ID identifies her as an accompanied minor, reading Rider + Last Name. But, the pseudonym seems to allow Rydr to freedom she needs to find herself.  

Train I Ride is an emotional, edgy coming of age journey, and although it is recommended for readers age 8+, I would hesitate giving this book to any readers under 10. There are some tough emotionally demanding scenes in it that may require more maturity than 8 or 9 year olds tend to have. 

I would pair Train I Ride with Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish, even though that is a fantasy. Both are spot on in dealing with the impact a family member's drug addiction can have on a tween girl struggling to come to terms with it.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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