They told me I was an out-of-control train about to crash…
Everything changed when the police officer knocked on the door to tell me – a 16-year-old – that my older sister Kristen had died of a brain aneurysm. Cue the start of my parents neglecting me and my whole life spiraling out of control.
I decided now was the perfect time to skip town. It’s the early 90’s, Kurt Cobain runs the grunge music scene and I just experienced some serious trauma. What’s a girl supposed to do? I didn’t want to end up like Kristen, so I grabbed my bucket list, turned up my mixtape of the greatest 90’s hits and fled L.A.. The goal was to end up at Kurt Cobain’s house in Seattle, but I never could have guessed what would happen along the way.
At turns heartbreaking, inspiring, and laugh out loud funny, Runaway Train is a wild journey of a bygone era and a portrait of a one-of-a-kind teenage girl trying to find herself again the only way she knows how.
Reading Runaway Train made me think of Einstein’s First Law – that a body in motion will stay in motion until some external force acts on it. A literal runaway train with its incredible mass, gathering speeds it moves without control, increasing momentum, is almost impossible to stop. It felt heart wrenching to read about the girl aboard this impending train wreck – a sixteen-year-old who feels like she has grown up in her sister’s shadow and cannot properly mourn her passing because she fears that death is just the next set of her older sister’s footsteps that she will inhabit. That her sister’s death is on the same day as rock music hero River Phoenix sets the stage for a book that shows the influence that someone really young can have on the world but it also cues the influence of music and music culture on characters.
It’s always tough to read about the harsh realities that teenagers in any era have to grow up alongside and I felt like maybe the characters Nico and her friends Winter and Jeremy didn’t act like 16 year olds, with the drugs and the freedoms they took with their lives as well as the liberties they took with their parents but again, it connected with the premature experiences of celebrity children, like Phoenix and Kurt Cobain, who also features heavily in this story.
The writing was really immersive and fast paced and kept me engaged enough to read it in a sitting, possible since the book is less than 300 pages. I would recommend making a playlist of some of the songs that feature as chapter titles to listen to while you read this book, as I tried to do midway through reading it. Some of the songs are good, and definitely not my usual jam but it helps to center a bit of the experience of living in those prior years and helps provide a bit of the nostalgia that reading a book set in the 1990s should give. It also helps to understand why the main character, Nico, selected the songs for her sister, and explains a bit of their relationship. Some of the lyrics also echoed on the pages and it makes for a bit of a wild ride, as I imagined Nico’s adventures and the emotional connections that run as undercurrents throughout this book.
Despite the characters’ ages, I’d say this is not your typical YA novel, at least not one I’d recommend to 16 year old readers unless your message to said teens would be to live life without inhibitions. Nico’s habits are incredibly self-destructive, again, like her heroes Phoenix and Cobain, so this might be interesting to read as fantasy but certainly not as characters to emulate. That said, this was quite a wild ride and a fun bit of escapist fiction to enjoy.
Thanks to Trish Collins from TLC Book Tours for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not otherwise compensated for this post.
Title: Runaway Train
Author: Lee Matthew Goldberg
Publisher: Wise Wolf Books
Publication Date: April 26, 2021
About Lee Matthew Goldberg
Lee Matthew Goldberg is the author of THE ANCESTOR, THE DESIRE CARD, SLOW DOWN and THE MENTOR from St. Martin’s Press. He has been published in multiple languages and nominated for the 2018 Prix du Polar. ORANGE CITY, his first sci-fi novel, is forthcoming in 2021 along with his YA series RUNAWAY TRAIN.
His pilots and screenplays have been finalists in Script Pipeline, Book Pipeline, Stage 32, We Screenplay, the New York Screenplay, Screencraft, and the Hollywood Screenplay contests. After graduating with an MFA from the New School, his writing has also appeared in the anthology DIRTY BOULEVARD, The Millions, Vol 1. Brooklyn, LitReactor, Necessary Fiction, Fiction Writer’s Review, The Montreal Review, The Adirondack Review, Essays & Fictions, The New Plains Review, and others. He is the co-curator of The Guerrilla Lit Reading Series (guerrillalit.wordpress.com). He lives in New York City. Follow him at leematthewgoldberg.com and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.