THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS by Ammi-Joan Paquette – Reviewed by: Bridget Hodder
“Late at night, that’s when the magic was strongest. When stories swirled like fog and trembled like dreams made real.”
In Middle Grade literature, it’s rare to find the complex sorrow of a parent’s terminal illness embedded in an enjoyable matrix of adventure, magic and mystery. Yet Paquette’s latest work achieves this unusual balance, never bogging down into sentimentality or allowing the magical storyline to diminish the gravity of the situation faced by the young protagonist, Marty, whose father is dying of cancer.
For a whole year, as Marty’s dad has gotten sicker and sicker, the two of them have collected unique, meaningful pins and patches together– as Marty’s dad puts it, “one for each memory we never want to forget.” One by one, they fasten them to the special denim jacket that Dad gave Marty on his birthday. As Marty’s father’s condition worsens, the memory-making grows ever more important to them both.
Until the ill-fated day when Marty’s on a trip, and his jacket disappears.
Marty’s got to find that jacket. As his dad slips further into the final stages of illness, Marty’s determined not to lose the precious memories they created together. But frantic searching doesn’t turn up the jacket anywhere. If only Marty could somehow get on board the mythic Train of Lost Things, where the things children love and lose can be magically found again!
Then comes the night when Marty wishes so hard, the magic–and the Train of Lost Things–finds him. How far will he go to recapture what he’s lost? He boards the train…and he’s about to find out.
But magic is never easy. Something has gone terribly wrong with the Train of Lost Things. Marty and the kids he meets on board will have to navigate bewildering new territory, solve the mystery and find a way to fix what’s gone awry, before they can discover what they’re really looking for. And in the process of changing the situation in the train, they are changed, too.
Readers of THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS will learn, along with Marty and his friends, that what we truly love can never be truly lost.
This glowing, lyrical and tender book will enthrall young readers and leave them with a deeply satisfying ending, still grounded in the painful reality Marty must face.
Highly recommended for home, school and classrooms.
As a special addition to today’s book review, here’s a discussion of inspiration, process and the deeply personal connections of THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS with the author, Ammi-Joan Paquette (AJP). Interviewer: Bridget Hodder (BH).
BH: If I were to pitch a High Concept for THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS, I’d say it’s “THE POLAR EXPRESS meets MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO“! Are there any inspirations or influences from books or films you’d like to discuss?
AJP: Oh my gosh, I love that pitch!
I almost feel that this story found me more than I created it, and as such I didn’t consciously draw from any particular sources in its crafting. With that said, without a doubt any work of fiction is the subconscious product of all that its author has ingested over a lifetime of reading. I read widely and exuberantly, and I am grateful for the tendrils of inspiration that have lingered in my mind, melding with my own heartflow to magic up a bedrock for this story, and then giving me a part in its creation.
BH: Your story is unusual partly because of its active approach to a situation in which kids are usually forced into the the role of a traumatized bystander: the serious illness of a parent. The magical Train of Lost Things provides a way for Marty to feel like he’s doing something important to help his dad–and ultimately, he does. Even though in real life, magic doesn’t appear in the form of a train, your story helps us realize that real magic lies in finding out what truly matters, and honoring it with our efforts. This seems like a deeply personal reflection on love and loss. Could you discuss how this might (or might not) arise from your own life experiences?
AJP: There is indeed a personal connection to this story.
Fifteen years ago, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. At the first visit to her oncologist, she was told she had four months to live. She lived four months and a week from that day. This book is my first foray into untangling in writing my emotions about this deepest of emotional experiences.
As I mentioned briefly above, the story seed began when my daughter lost something very special to her. It wasn’t until I began writing the book that the deeper aspects—the terminal illness of a parent, and my own loss—began to take shape. I didn’t actually realize the connection between the two until afterward. But once the book was done, I saw that the exploration of this physical loss—and other things I had lost over the course of my life—was actually my way of “writing in” to the subject that had been sitting in the deepest corner of my heart for so long: the loss of my mother.
In an area in which we are so often left utterly powerless, it felt good to give my main character an active role to play, some positive and hope-filled ending, some closure.
BH: I’d say you succeeded. Can you tell us how you came by the unique story concept?
AJP: Most of my books tend to begin with a character, an idea, or even a title—and then I have to use a great deal of author-muscle to painstakingly sculpt them outward from there. This story was born when I discovered that my daughter had lost something irreplaceable and precious to her. Within minutes of this parental despair (and a painful flashback to my own lost things of yore!), the core idea of the Train of Lost Things came to me, near fully-formed. That’s not to say that the actual writing didn’t require effort, toil, revision, and more—but somehow there seemed to be much less teeth-gnashing than usual.
BH: What would you tell parents and educators about your book that might not be obvious at first glance?
AJP: I think there can be a question sometimes of whether books on sad or difficult topics are good or relevant to introduce to young readers.
I really believe that there is no life that is not (or will not be) touched by darkness in some form. But even for those who come into the double-digits without some great life tragedy, books can provide a crucial aspect: empathy. I wouldn’t say that a child who has not experienced loss needs books of this type more than one who has—but I’d certainly say that they need it as much. And for those within the dark places, even more important: stories of this type show that they are seen. Not only by the author, but also by every reader who comes through those pages.
BH: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights with the Nerdy Book Club!
Get on board, little children! (And adults with a child in their hearts.)
THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS is coming into the station on March 20th!
Reviewer and Interviewer Bridget Hodder, author of THE RAT PRINCE from Macmillan- Farrar, Straus & Giroux, is looking forward to seeing you all at nErDcamp Michigan this summer! Website: http://www.BridgetHodder.com Twitter: @BridgetsBooks
THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS by AMMI-JOAN PAQUETTE (debuts March 20, 2018)
- Age Range: 8 – 12 years
- Grade Level: 3 – 7
- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Philomel Books – Penguin Young Readers ISBN 978-1-5247-3939-3