Is the grass greener on the other side of the train window? Even a brief brush with a stranger can change our lives. It's 1970, and Perry feels adrift in turbulent times: his father is missing in action in Vietnam, his mother is studying to become a nurse in the city, his older sister has become a peacenik in college. Traveling between his hometown, where he lives with his grandmother, and his mother's house in Cincinnati, Perry notices Steve, whose farm lies on the B&O railroad line. Steve likes to race the train as it blows by his fields; Steve skillfully sends his collie after an escaped cow; Steve watches the Cincinnatian, longing for its speed, longing for adventure. In alternating voices, Michael J. Rosen's poems weave a tale of two boys—one wishing for the stability of home, the other yearning to travel—and the unexpected impact of their fleeting encounter.
This understated novel from Rosen (The Hound Dog's Haiku) is composed of alternating poems written from the perspectives of two boys whose lives briefly intersect. The year is 1969, and 13-year-old Perry travels via train between his grandparents' houses in Cincinnati and Wapakoneta, Ohio. In his notebook, he reflects on his father, who is missing in Vietnam; writes to his sister, Annie; and struggles with feelings of rootlessness: "What's home to me since I have two homes now/ (one with Mom and Grandpa, one with Gran),/ two closets of clothes, two desks,/ two beds where I sleep, two dogs." Nine-year-old Steve, weighed down by chores, is both fascinated and a little intimidated by the larger world outside his family's farm ("With luck, one day/ I'll ride the train the whole route / not just dream it"). Rosen's poetry, mostly blank verse, circles contemplatively around themes of powerlessness, longing, and growing up. The novel travels at a satisfying hum, though Steve and Perry's quiet reflections have a restraint at times too timid to leave a lasting impression. Ages 10 up.