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catch this train.

The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Deliverytrain cover

by PG Bell with illustrations by Matthew Sharack

Feiwel & Friends, October 2018.

Hardcover, 368pp w/ illustrations.

[I read an advanced reader copy]

There is a sneak peek of the first 3 chapters.

Suzy Smith was enjoying her physics homework when the first glimpse of something impossible occurs. Later that night, further impossibility is confirmed. A troll is building a railway in her hallway, preparing a shortcut for a behind-schedule delivery for The Impossible Postal Express: a service whose posties “risk life, limb, and reason in the execution of their duties.”

Needless to say, Suzy has the desire to know more about this bizarre train and its Impossible Places—and we’re all grateful for it, because her adventure takes all kinds of gravity defying turns. Enlisting as a postie, she delivers a package to the evil and powerful Lady Crepuscula (and steals it back), visits a shipwreck, and discovers that trolls really do live under a bridge. She is then sent hurtling toward her final delivery stop. It’s intense. And awesome.

Suzy is a proper Whovian*-character: curious, resourceful, somewhat impulsive, caring and loyal, and very clever. She makes some difficult decisions, and proves capable of problem-solving in both physics and fuzzics under threat of fatal collision.

frog impossible train
“Frederick” illustration by Matthew Sharack

Suzy is the proper strong-female-protagonist** in that she is allowed her emotions and her fear of being seen in ugly pajamas. She doesn’t have to act on prophesy, but on an increasingly well-honed gut-instinct. I appreciate her anger, and that it is portrayed as what it is: rational. E.g. Frederick isn’t the most honest frog-figurine trapped in a snow globe.

The mystery behind the nefarious goings-on in the Impossible Places is spectacular, and is steeped in some serious relevance. In a Fantasy Adventure, we’re familiar with the suspicion of a character’s amassing of strength and/or magic as a means to overpower and control a kingdom, but what about information?

A lot of reality seeps into the impossible realms of fantasy: Trollville’s manufacturing crisis is reminiscent of industrial revolutions; the interwebs effect on not just information, but the postal service. I appreciated the brief pauses on culture vs globalization. Adults really should be reading children’s literature.

C
“Postmaster Wilmot” illustration by Matthew Sharack

Don’t allow that aside to trouble you: no part of The Train to Impossible Places is boring, and the above paragraph fits perfectly into the conversation grade schoolers (and adults have) about being allowed to be our selves.

In the opening chapter, Suzy knows her love of physics is beginning to earn her odd looks and deep frustrated sighs. But then we get to participate in an adventure for which her passions and dispositions are well suited. Same with all the characters we come to meet, they’re all fiercely determined to have their own mind about themselves in contexts that would limit their potential or just flat-out disallow or dismiss them. And once you find a good place for yourself to be, can you ever go back?

Good news for Suzy Smith (and us readers), this is Book One.

The Train to Impossible Places is entertaining and empowering. Nerdy kids with any sense of humor will be an easy sell for this book, but I think any kid could love this adventure. It’s well-paced and sassy and doesn’t underestimate its young audience. Welcome to your next book club read.

The Train to Impossible Places is a good read-aloud option. You’ll alternately laugh and hold your breath and crinkle your brow; you may even tear-up a bit.

For households who appreciate Doctor Who, Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett. Readers of Mieville’s Un Lun Dun, Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated…, Holly Grant’s Beastly Dreadfuls and/or Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke.

line clipart

*as in Doctor Who, and if I hadn’t already read that Bell was raised on it, I would have guessed from his characterization, the feel of the adventure, and that entertaining exchange on how the inside could possibly be bigger than outside.

**Bell writes really good characters all the way around, but his female characters just set my feminist heart aflutter. Ursel’s insistence of being called a woman, not a girl…so good! and well-played comedically.

***cursed or curse-ed delivery? I think both.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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