12 year old Etta Johnson lives in Chicago with her mum and dad. They’re a smidge over protective because Etta can’t always hear that well. She has Quiet Days and Loud Days. But on all days one of her favourite things to do is draw comics of her character Invincible Girl, who always save the day from the evil Petra Fide. But when strange clouds appear in the skies over the city, and people start acting a bit weird, it’s up to Etta to investigate. And when the new kid’s dog disappears onto an impossible train, she has to decide if she’s as brave as her imaginary character.
Using her phone as a translator on her Quiet Days (as well as to interpret her classmate Eleazar’s Spanish), Etta heads onto the train, finding cars full of riddles to solve and challenges to get through in order to reach the next door, each one taking them closer to the engine room and hopefully Eleazar’s missing dog, Louisa May Alcott. Along the way they meet other inhabitants of the train, some with connections to each other that they may have forgotten. But can they find the dog and fix the train before their own fears overwhelm them?
This is beautiful story about friendship and courage. Etta pulls you into her story from the first page, and Eschmann does a fantastic job of portraying Etta’s hearing loss and her worries about it. But it’s also not her main fear throughout. Etta wants to write a good story, and fears she never will, and these fears are pulled into the story as the train and its magic reacts to them. It also depicts new friendships really well as she and Eleazar try to navigate this strange world together when they barely know each other.
I appreciated how much this book leans into the idea of having hope. It’t not just about having courage or being brave, although that’s a big part of it, it’s holding onto the hope that things can be better, so you don’t get overwhelmed by fear, or grief.
If there’s one thing that I wish there was more of (and this isn’t a negative), it’s the comics that are shown at the beginning and end of the book. I assume this was due to cost or time constraints, but there are times in the book when Etta is drawing her comic and it would have been nice to see the art rather than just her descriptions of it. Otherwise this is a lovely tale really well told, and one I think my girls would enjoy when they’re a little older. It’s Eschmann’s debut so I’ll keep a look out for her future books.