I was so looking forward to finally getting to read "The Children's Train," and it didn't disappoint. This is a lovely, well-written piece of historical fiction about a time following WWII when poor children in Southern Italy were given the option to live (temporarily) with more prosperous families in Northern Italy. Our main character Amerigo is one such child who goes and then comes back.
The subject matter is, on the surface, fairly miserable, but the book doesn't muddle around in tragedy. The prose is detailed and witty, and the progression of the story is well-paced. Whether children are speaking to each other, or to adults, the dialogue reads as totally natural, sometimes genuinely funny. Amerigo contextualizes the world in a way that he can understand it, and at times his observations and actions come off as both innocent and dark. For example, he describes his older brother's death from bronchial asthma as a "bad idea" rather than a tragedy. Really fitting for a child's perspective on death.
Anyway, after Amerigo arrives in Northern Italy, he soon finds that his life is better there than it ever was in Naples with his mother. The use of these two settings is purposeful, in fact the entire point of the book, as it presents Amerigo with the extreme opposite of how he's lived up until then. The conflict he feels when he returns to his mother, where nothing much has changed, becomes the main conflict of the story. From poverty and a distant mother to a caring foster family where he never goes hungry. From there, he makes a choice.
I'm not sure yet how I feel about the ending. It made me a bit emotional, but I feel like it could've done something more. Very glad I read it, nonetheless. Made for a quick read.