This contemporary literary YA novel explores the growing relationship between two teens who meet, get to know each other, and fall in love, entirely on the New York City subway system. Add in some detail about both the end of the hippie era and the early 21st century, street photography, and subway car graffiti, and you have a strange, lyrical love story.
- Full Title:Subway Love
- Author: Nora Raleigh Baskin
- Publisher: Candlewick Press
- Publication Date: May 2014
- ISBN: 9780763668457 (hardcover)
On the Wrong Track
Laura's parents got divorced when her mother decided to move away from New York City and become a hippie. In her time, not many kids have divorced parents, and the hippie days are drawing to a close, so Laura is different from the other kids in more ways than one. She has one good friend, and every couple of weeks, she goes to the city to visit her father. Those visits become her whole world, not just because she escapes her mother's abusive boyfriend, but because sometimes when she's on the subway she runs into a boy who makes her feel free and safe.
Jonas is a New York City teen, a bit of an outsider (though he has one best friend). His parents are divorced, he's not speaking to his father, and he can never quite seem to make it to school on time. One day, when he's just managed to miss his subway train -- again -- he notices a girl on the platform across from him, and he takes her picture.
Then he can't get her out of his mind, and he keeps hoping to run across her again.
Although Subway Love doesn't feel at all like a fantasy or SF novel, it does make use of time travel. It's so subtle at first that I found myself flipping back pages to try to figure out how the two protagonists were actually connected. My analytical brain was a little bit bothered that I didn't know exactly what was going on, but my creative brain -- which is usually dominant when I read -- was willing to accept the oddity and just keep reading, trusting that the author would make everything clear in the end.
There never is an actual explanation for the mechanism that allows Laura and Jonas to meet, but by the end of the story, it doesn't really matter. They did meet, and they can't explain it, but they changed each others' lives. Curiously, there is a third major character, the graffiti artist Max, who seems like he may know more than he lets on, and it's never really clear which time he belongs to or how he is able to interact with both Jonas and Laura. His story is never really explained, either, only hinted at.
On the Right Track
Despite the time travel element and the romance, if I had to put this book into a single genre, it would be literary fiction. It's not an easy genre to define -- it's kind of "I know it when I read it" -- but literary fiction does have a distinct feel. Some readers will revel in it, and others will hate it. It's a genre that, when done well, produces some of the greatest works of literature in English. And if done poorly, it can be simply tedious.
I have to admit that I was a little bit worried that Subway Love might land in the tedious category. It's not a story that swept me away from the first few words. I had to push on, through very good but somehow rather stilted writing, and let it grow on me. By the time I got to the end, I like it quite a lot, and was glad to have read it, but I don't think it will make my list of favorites.
End of the Line
For parents concerned about content, there are mentions of drinking and drugs -- one of the timelines is set during the 70s after all -- though the main characters don't indulge (at least not during the novel). There is also one sex scene, near the end of the book when the characters have realized how in love they are, but it is mostly off the page and not in the least explicit. Finally, there are mentions of physical abuse (with hints of possible sexual abuse), again mostly not described.
For readers who enjoy literary fiction, Subway Love will be a treat, and for those who can't stand lit fic, it won't. Fans of contemporary stories should give it a shot, even though they might not otherwise be interested in time travel or romance, because it feels more like a contemporary story (if that makes any sense).