Trigger warning: This book has themes such as: suicide, drug use and pregnancy loss
Set in LA in the ’90s, this coming of age tale centres around our protagonist Nico who we meet on the worst day of her life. Her older sister Kristen collapses dead of a brain aneurysm on a run. Kristen is a great student and athlete, pretty much the perfect daughter. At the same time, Nico also finds out that popular musician and actor, River Phoenix has died and the two events are forever linked in Nico’s mind.
Nico is an aimless teen, doing all the things that teens shouldn’t do. Smoking, drinking and drugs are daily vices. The tragic death of her sister puts her on the fast track to ‘hitting bottom’. She and her family are trapped in the quagmire of grief and Nico is left with very little in the way of emotional support from family. Her only two friends support her during this time and Nico uses the death of River Phoenix as a way of talking about her grief without ever really talking about it.
A plan is cooked up to run away and take a road trip with her and her friends. Nico is forced to confront things she cannot avoid any longer and realises her path in life throughout her journey, but it’s not without a few bumps in the road!
Runaway Train is an ode to the ‘90s grunge music scene and road trips. The songs are also used as guideposts and beautifully reflect Nico’s feelings and inner turmoil.
Goldberg captures the journey of grief perfectly in this novel. The shattering effect it has on families and the self-destructive force it can have is beautifully written. The author also has captured the experiences of teenage girls very well and his protagonist is extremely relatable. Almost all of us have felt that we were out of place or misunderstood in our teenage years. Nico doesn’t always make the best choices and that makes this flawed character even more likeable.
I found the relationship with her sister very similar to my own experiences growing up. My sisters and I all had different tastes in music (which often happens even when you grow up in the same house!) and had the same arguments with my sisters. But despite all the differences we love each other more than anything in the world.
I was also intrigued by the book before I started to read it as it explores a music scene that was around when I was a very young girl (around 6 or 7 years old). Runaway Train, helped me understand the grunge movement in much greater detail, through the eyes of Nico. Songs can define a generation and this story highlights the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam who did just that.
I loved Nico as a protagonist and the characters that she encounters. All of which teach her things about herself and her loss.
This book encapsulates the journey of a lifetime, love and grief.
Great read, once I started I couldn’t put it down. 5/5.
Get Runaway Train by Matthew Lee Goldberg here. Available in paperback and e-book.
*this book was sent to me by Odyssey Publishing at no charge to me, however I do not benefit financially from any clicks or future book sales. All book reviews are my own views.