Hiya everyone! Today I’ll be reviewing This Train Is Being Held by Ismée Williams. Before I get into my review, look at this beautiful cover! I say this in every review, but I can always, ALWAYS, appreciate a stunning book cover. This was easily my most anticipated YA novel of 2020, so I’m super excited to have finally read it! Without further ado, let’s jump right into it!
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, 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.
First, let’s talk about the plot. The original premise of ‘This Train Is Being Held’ sounded, rather generic. We’ve all heard the story of ‘they meet one day on a train.’ However, going into the story, I knew I wouldn’t be delving into a creative plot. And you know what? I’m okay with that. I prefer contemporary, so it was nice to be met with a rather simplistic story. The plot was executed pretty well, so I had no issues with that aspect of the novel. Unfortunately though, it was a bit too insta-love for my liking.
Furthermore, with that said, the characters were complex. It was amazing to see an almost all Latinx and Hispanic cast. The diversity within the cast was so cool! The main characters; Isa and Alex weren’t bland. Alex wants to be a poet, and Isa wants to be a dancer. In many immigrant households, pursuing the arts is a rather taboo topic. So it was great to see that they were showing colored people in the arts. However, I was hoping for more communication between the characters. From the parents to the children, to Isa and Alex, there was so much miscommunication! That part of the story left me a bit frustrated. Without giving away spoilers, for a large part of the story, Alex kept on trying to talk to Isa, but she would constantly respond to him indirectly. And Alex always kept on assuming things without even trying to communicate with other people.
“Because it doesn’t matter where you come from. If you work hard enough, you can do anything. Become anyone.”
― Ismée Amiel Williams, This Train Is Being Held
The side characters were also well crafted. First we have Isa and Alex’ parents. Their parents were complex, and I loved that. In a lot of stories, the parents literally have no personality. In This Train Is Being Held, Isa’s mom and older brother are bipolar. I can’t say for sure how accurate the illness was portrayed in the novel because it simply isn’t my place to comment on that. However, Isa’s mother has a fascinating backstory. (You’ll have to find out what is it for yourself. 😏) I also liked how Alex has a sweet relationship with his parents. He has a great relationship with his mom, and step mom; Yaritza. His dad however, not so much. I like how the family dynamic was explored throughout the book. Alex’s dad is hard on him and his little brother Robi. Robi is just such a cutie, and I love how Alex was protective over him. Alex’s friends; Danny and Bryan are great characters as well. In the story, the police constantly target Alex and his friends because of the color of their skin. They assume they’re in a gang, much like the one Danny’s brother was in. The book readily explores police brutality, and I thought it was so amazing and unique to see such topics present in contemporary novels. Another interesting side character was Kiara; a girl that likes Alex. Without giving away too much, in the beginning I didn’t like her. However, she proved to be an empathetic character in the end! Isa also has a loving relationship with her older brother Merrit. She looks up to her brother, and cares for him. It was refreshing to see a brother-sister dynamic where the dialogue isn’t just “GeT OuT oF My RoOM.”
Looking back, I realize that there wasn’t much dialogue between Alex and Isa for the last 3/4 of the book. For the dialogue that there was, I would say it was rather unrealistic. Within the first 20 pages, they kiss….um what. Nevertheless, I was very intrigued with the dialogue between Alex and his friend Danny. A portion of the narration was in Spanish. Personally, I found it to be rather refreshing. Although I don’t understand the language, it was still nice to see another language other than English spoken in a American YA novel.
“I want to be with you through the bad. Not just laugh next to you during the good.” He tells me what his mami told him. That falling in love is easy but fighting for it is hard. “You, this.” He points to the two of us. “It’s worth fighting for.”
― Ismée Amiel Williams, This Train Is Being Held
The writing style was raw, and I loved that. It was nice to see Alex and Isa’s inner thoughts. The point of view is in first person, and in present tense. Present tense writing is something I don’t encounter often within the Young Adult Genre. I enjoyed the writing because it was very ‘in the moment.’ This allowed the readers to immerse completely into the story. Unfortunately though, the pacing was incredibly awkward, and the words girlfriend and boyfriend, were only mentioned till way later. That made me extremely confused as to whether or not they were dating, or simply just liked each other. On a side note, the description of the foods present in the novel where done so well. I’ve never tried guava pastries, but I really want to now!
The overall enjoyment level of the book will be different for everyone. If you enjoy contemporary, then I recommend This Train Is Being Held! However, if romance isn’t your thing, then you might not enjoy this book as much as I did. What others would define as boring, I define as nail-biting suspense. The author had me hooked throughout the entire story!
I will admit, I was going to give this one three stars. The middle proved frustrating, but the ending was phenomenal. So I bumped it up to four stars!
Age Rating: 15 and up
TW: Police brutality, gang violence, some mature content
Final Rating: 7.5/10 or 3.75 stars
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What is your favorite YA contemporary novel? Have a fabulous day everyone!