Running With Trains Book Review

Running With Trains: A Novel in Poetry and Two Voices by Michael J. Rosen

Perry rides the B&O railroad every week, traveling between his grandmother and his mother. As the train zips past the countryside Perry ponders his life and that of others. Like the little boy he sees every now and then who tends to the cows. Does that boy feel free? Meanwhile, that same little boy Steve sits on the fence and wonders where the people on the train are going and how free they must feel, not trapped as he feels by this country life. Their lives intersect for only a moment, but they both come to conclusions about each other and life.

Told with a mixture of poetry, prose, and letters, I thought the poems were well-structured with rythm and energy that sometimes felt like a train winding its way through the countryside. The prose portions on the other hand felt rather disjointed from the story and I wondered as I read it whether it would not have been better (although admittedly not easy) to turn the information from each prose vignette that opened each chapter into a poem itself, allowing the book to be a true novel in verse like Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge or Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse or even Dark Sons by Nikki Grimes, which is also with two voices.  I get the author was trying something different and perhaps uniqueness will pull in readers who enjoy a little prose with their poetry or vice versa.

The premise of the story was solid, two boys wondering and wishing for something on the other side of the fence, dreaming of life beyond their own. Many of the poems are quite beautiful, but there simply wasn't enough of a connection to the characters for me to feel like it was a true novel instead of the small window into their lives, a window that I wanted to be just a little bigger.