Isa is a dancer, but her mother doesn’t approve of ballet as a career. Alex is a pitching prospect who wants to be a poet. She’s half-Cubana, and lives on Park Avenue on the Upper East Side. He’s Dominican, and doesn’t. They meet on the subway, and for some time, the possibility of romance between them remains just that. . . a possibility; as fleeting and fraught with chance as missing the express train.
And for some time, reading Ismée Williams’ sophomore effort, This Train Is Being Held, feels like taking the local.The chapters alternate between Isa’s and Alex’s point of view, and the reader slowly learns who the protagonists are, what motivates them, and just how they have gotten to that subway train, with detours into their family dynamics and friend circles. That’s not a criticism of the pacing either–I loved the slow burn as Isa and Alex try and try and try to connect. I loved discovering their neighborhoods and meeting their friends. I found their stories gripping, and not just theirs, but those of their classmates and friends, almost all of whom felt real and multi-dimensional, with personalities and problems to match.
This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill tale of star-crossed lovers. Yes, this subway-riding Romeo and Juliet have a journey to love that is fraught with difficulty, hampered by their different families, neighborhoods, and the secrets they keep. But they also have real identities, grounded in their backgrounds. Alex’s fear of being accosted by the police feels especially timely, and his desire to be seen, really seen, leaps off the page and wrenches the reader’s heart:
“All that I do, with baseball, with Papi, is so folks see beyond what their eyes tell them when they look at me. Isa did that all on her own. She doesn’t even care about my ball playing.”
Tackling racism, stereotyping, mental illness, and serving up poetry, baseball and ballet, this literary ride is one to savor.
This Train is Being Held
This Train is Being Held (Support an Independent Bookstore)
This Train is Being Held (Hardcover at Amazon)*
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My thanks to Abrams for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.
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