YA Book Review: This Train is Being Held by Ismée Williams (2020)

Thursday, December 9, 2021

I'm so torn about this book. I love the first 2/3 of the story, where Isa and Alex are getting to know each other and their romance is just so endearing and cute, and just, yeah, all of that. Because Alex is a complete and total doll and I adore him, rather like I adore Javier in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. The use of Spanish interspersed in the conversation is endearing, but I do think creates some problems with reading comprehension. I dealt with it by using Google translate, but I did give that up eventually and just sort of made my best-estimated guess at what was being said. It did however add to the charm of the book and made me really feel like I was reading about a half-Cuban girl and a Dominican American boy. So that was great.

HOWEVER, there are problems with This Train is Being Held and most of the issues make the story feel like it's set in the 1950s instead of 2020.

- Yes, racial bias is a real thing. But there is a distinct vibe in this book that everyone Alex ever encounters except for Isa draws back from him in horror, not because he has a ghastly appearance, but because he's Latino. I just don't even know what to say to that except that, if that has been someone's experience in real life, then it sucks. And should never happen. And it's wrong that it has happened to you. But making Isa the only person to ever see him as just a boy and not assume he's a hoodlum is ridiculous. That he would experience some racial bias is accurate, I'm sorry to say, but not from every white person he ever encounters. The unexplained shunning became just too absurd.

- Police brutality. Just stop.


This is becoming a trendy trope that I hate. Authors love to build out their culturally diverse characters and give them full dimension and make them come alive, but where the cops are concerned, just make them cruel and brutal and you're good. That's another form of discrimination and I have no patience for it. Are all cops good? No, of course not. But they're sure as hell not all bad either and I can't for one moment believe that a group of cops would start hitting a Latino teenager when he has clearly not done anything to warrant their suspicion. Maybe I'm wrong, I'm willing to admit it if I am and if I am then it means our police need to work harder at improvement. But overall, it just smacks of overdramatization to raise my sympathy and I really hate it when authors try to do that.


If you want an example of a great cop, watch Teen Wolf. Sheriff Stilinski is amazing and always will be amazing and because he's such a great cop and father, I hate it when cops are reduced to just brutal meatheads.

- The miscommunication trope. I watch Japanese drama and one of my most hated tropes is the miscommunication trope. It serves no purpose other than to create turmoil and angst. I'm not even sure why Isa wasn't sharing her life struggles with Alex. But it's the curse of YA fiction, most fiction actually. Characters in fiction never read it because if they did, they would learn that keeping their struggles secret from the person they love only ends in hurt feelings and MISCOMMUNICATION. So, yeah, that trope is not original and it dragged the last 1/3 of the story waaaaaaaay down.

However, despite the things that drove me bananas, I am going to rate This Train is Being Held 3 stars. I was thinking 2 stars, but I can't do that because Alex and Isa are just so sweet. It has this charisma about it that just snagged my interest and it was a super-fast read for me, and that's usually a good thing.

Here are some of the great elements of This Train is Being Held.

- Parents, stop pressuring your kids to live out your own dreams. Instead, enable them to follow their dreams. That's an important message and one I think the book gets right. People are more than one thing and should be allowed to be more than one thing. In that regard, I think that Alex is more well-rounded than Isa because he has multiple talents and interests. He's more than just the baseball player his Papi wants him to be, and he should be allowed to be all of his interests. Closeting away a part of your talent is never a healthy choice.

- Mental health struggles are a real thing, people suffer from them, and they cause friction and angst and stress in families. Be patient, be aware, and be understanding. I'm thankful that bipolar disorder was handled so graciously in This Train is Being Held. It's one of my most favorite renderings of mental health struggles in YA fiction that I've encountered. 

- Language, pretty much kept to a minimum, so that was great, and while there is some sexual content, it's extremely mild. This book actually borders on a clean read, which is awesome and one of the reasons why I kept reading. Plus, I was super-invested by about 30 pages in.

This Train is Being Held

Author: Ismée Williams 

Year: 2020

My Rating:  ★★★

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