Train I Ride
Debut novelist Paul Mosier chose a challenging trope for his first book: a story which takes place entirely in one venue. In TRAIN I RIDE, an assortment of individuals from many different walks of life come together to make a difference in the life of one young girl.
Twelve-year-old Ryder hasn’t had an easy life. She lived in Gramma’s trailer in Palm Springs, California, after the drug overdose death of her addict mother. Ryder has never known the identity of her father. Now that Gramma has died, Ryder is being shipped to Chicago to live with a great uncle whom she never knew existed. Marginalized all of her young life, Ryder tells neither her traveling companions nor the reader her true name, instead borrowing a name from the “rider” designation on her underage passenger badge. Lying about her name is one of many efforts Ryder makes to hide her feelings and protect herself from the danger of caring about any of her traveling companions --- she has learned the hard way that when she believes in someone or something, it is invariably taken from her.
"Ryder has a sharp wit and a humorously sarcastic view of the world. TRAIN I RIDE may not be an easy read in the emotional sense, but it is certainly a meaningful and rewarding one."
Ryder is very precocious; she is used to fending for herself, is very well read for a child of neglect, and she puts on a brave face at all times, refusing to let anyone or anything make her cry. Little by little, however, various passengers make their way past Ryder’s carefully constructed emotional barriers, and the story becomes a rich pastiche of the human condition as Ryder learns that many of the people she meets carry their own heavy burdens throughout life. Ryder meets Neal, the handsome snack bar operator, whom she sees as a father figure. She gets to know Carlos, a man who encourages her to believe in herself. She befriends Tenderchunks, a boy scout who suffers at the hands of bullies, but who refuses to give in to self-pity and who sees in Ryder the soul of a poet. Ryder is watched over by Dorothea, the Amtrak employee assigned to protect her during her trip.
Each of these people have different but very profound effects on Ryder as she travels. Ryder realizes that she has been given a gift in these companions, and she finds the courage to tell each of them some truth about her personal life, losses and the anger she carries at the world and those who have left her alone in it. Ryder admits, “Sometimes I feel like making myself ugly on the outside to match the way I feel on the inside,” yet she never stops looking to make a real connection with others. Thanks to Dorothea’s powers of observation, Ryder celebrates her thirteenth birthday on the train, as her “family” gives her the best celebration of her life --- which is nothing more than a cake, a song, and heartfelt good wishes. Ryder finally admits that she can’t help but allow her friends to make her cry, this time, tears of joy.
TRAIN I RIDE is not a light-hearted story, but there are many light moments. Ryder has a sharp wit and a humorously sarcastic view of the world. Mosier does a very good job of separating the moments of levity from the periods during which Ryder is truly afraid --- of being hungry, alone, or left behind by everyone she’s ever cared for…until her new friends show her that she is strong, brave and crafty enough to face life’s hardships. Ryder is an intrepid, lovable protagonist who reaches the reader’s heart. The reader must accompany Ryder at her pace on her journey of discovery; first-person point of view dictates that the story progress at the rate of Ryder’s thought process. At times, it is distressing to be in Ryder’s head and to feel what she feels --- a nod to the authenticity of Mosier’s writing, even when Ryder’s sentences and vocabulary border occasionally on the adult. There is no fairy-tale ending here; Mosier keeps it real as he pens an emotional, yet ultimately hopeful conclusion.
TRAIN I RIDE may not be an easy read in the emotional sense, but it is certainly a meaningful and rewarding one. Due to subject matter and content, TRAIN I RIDE is recommended for grades five through eight.
Reviewed by Donna Rasmussen on January 17, 2017