Book Review: This Train is Being Held

Title: This Train is Being Held

Author: Ismee Williams

Genres:  Contemporary, Romance

Pages: 336

Publisher: Amulet Books

Review Copy: ARC from publisher

Availability: Available now

Summary: When private school student Isabelle Warren first meets Dominican-American Alex Rosario on the downtown 1 train, she remembers his green eyes and his gentlemanly behavior. He remembers her untroubled happiness, something he feels all rich kids must possess. That, and her long dancer legs. Over the course of multiple subway encounters spanning the next three years, Isabelle learns of Alex’s struggle with his father, who is hell-bent on Alex being a contender for the major leagues, despite Alex’s desire to go to college and become a poet. Alex learns about Isabelle’s unstable mother, a woman with a prejudice against Latino men. But fate—and the 1 train—throw them together when Isabelle needs Alex most. Heartfelt and evocative, this romantic drama will appeal to readers of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen.

Review: If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know I’m a sucker for any adaptations of Romeo and Juliet and when I read that “This Train is Being Held” was being compared to West Side Story, I was excited. West Side Story is my mom’s favorite musical so I grew up  watching the movie many times, singing the songs, etc. I have even used it in my classroom when I taught Romeo & Juliet (my student’s reactions were hilarious). I’ve performed in the play, seen the play numerous times, so suffice it to say, I know a lot about West Side Story. Well, after reading this novel, I can say that aside from Isabelle being from the Upper West Side and Alex being from the Bronx, that is about as close to West Side Story as I saw.

The basic premise of the story, two kids from different worlds falling in love after meeting on the train over time, is a good one and one that I enjoyed, however there were many times the premise of the novel didn’t match up to the reality. I liked both Isabelle and Alex separately as both of their individual stories were very compelling; Isabelle’s family is falling apart financially and dealing with her brother’s and mother’s mental illness, while Alex is receiving pressure from his father to be a big baseball star because his dad played for the Yankees. The times that Isabelle and Alex are together are very sweet and their relationship is a very slow burn which was refreshing to read in a contemporary YA romance. However, the mechanics involved to make this slow burn happen, for me, was unrealistic. Isabelle’s and Alex’s first encounters were completely by happenstance, however once they exchange numbers, I feel like we should have seen their relationship move at a bit faster pace. The idea was that between both of their schooling, her ballet, and his baseball, they didn’t have much time to spend with each other, hence the encounters on the train. Again, very sweet, but in this day and age, teenagers are always on their phones. I feel like while Isabelle and Alex might not have been able to see each other often, they at least would be communicating in some way all the time, whether through text, Instagram (which they do), Snapchat (is that still a thing?), or whatever is the site to be on these days. I mean, I’ve had students somehow manage to find my Instagram and message me about their homework! I just did not find that aspect of characterization and world building believable in this novel and it prevented me from fulling engaging with the story. I felt that in order for the tension to work, to have something prevent Isabelle and Alex’s “happy ever after”, this “communication problem” that the two had just didn’t fit into the world of the story, hence making the story a bit unbelievable.

The plus of this story is that Isabelle and Alex were very well written and I feel like they complimented each other well. Both are very head-strong teenagers with a fairly good sense of self, and the family relationships were written very well. Isabelle had a good relationship with her brother and many of those scenes felt very tender and authentic. Alex’s relationship with his mother was very honest and sweet. Even the parents that both had conflict with (Isabelle with her mom, Alex with his dad) you could still sense the love and respect that both had for their respective parent. For me, I feel these outside relationships were the strength of the book and what made Isabelle and Alex also work.

Recommendation: Honestly, I’m not too sure what I recommend for “This Train is Being Held” because it was a pleasant read and the family relationships are worth it. The romance is very heartwarming and sweet, so if that is your jam, go get this book.