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The Sunset Route

Freight Trains, Forgiveness, and Freedom on the Rails in the American West

by Carrot Quinn

The Sunset Route by Carrot Quinn X
The Sunset Route by Carrot Quinn
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  • Shannon L. (Portland, OR)
    Interesting story
    The Sunset Route is the memoir of Carrot Quinn and her years as a homeless, poor, white vagabond, a life that continues to define her. Carrot Quinn started life with her mother, Barbara, who struggled with untreated mental illness and a younger brother, Jordon. They lived in extreme poverty—with both children wanting for food, heat, stability, and love. Quinn's story comes in nonlinear flashes and can be tough to follow until you begin to recognize her style. Quinn's life is tumultuous. In some places these memories and experiences are hard to read. Mostly, it is the simple story of someone who doesn't give up.

    Readers quickly understand that normality is life with a schizophrenic mother who believes herself to be the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary and an absentee father who has given up all parental rights. Quinn and her younger brother are victims of abuse, starvation and, then, homelessness. The Sunset Route opens with an older Quinn who is about to take us on our first freight train ride. By the time we leave Quinn, we will have learned more about riding trains free of charge and finding places to sleep and get food than we hope we will ever need to know. Quinn's life is never stationary. To survive, she adopts bits and pieces of other persons' identities, persons she meets along the way, whom she admires for their passions or their skills at survival. The Sunset Route is filled with vibrant snapshots of people, hitchhiking and, eventually, Quinn's true love, thru-hiking. (Unlike backpacking, thru-hiking is hiking an established trail from one end to the other.)

    After a few years of struggle to keep her and her brother sheltered and in school, Quinn's grandparents finally take her in but they are not what she had imagined. They turn out to be very cold and abusive. They feed and clothe her but she is still denied the love she craves. Her saviors are her friends and strangers. Each friend she meets, in the various school systems she attends and on the road, give her the love and friendship severely lacking in her genetic family. Complete strangers offer her meals, rides and places to stay.

    Quinn's lifestyle of jumping trains, hitchhiking, living place to place and dumpster-diving is not one I could recommend regardless of how abusive a child's home was, but it was the only way out she saw. By book's end she does find some, but not all, of her answers by living the best life she can on her own terms. I was constantly amazed by the fortitude if this young woman who has the strength to constantly start over again. Quinn writes with honesty, vulnerability and puts it all out there, no holds barred.

    The Sunset Route was certainly interesting but a number of elements didn't work for me. The nonlinear structure blends time together, days, weeks and months pass without much remark. It is strongest in the middle. A lot of the chapters were pretty repetitive and it often felt like I was reading the same train-hopping story over and over. I never really cared about about Quinn or how she ends up. The book ends without a strong sense of closure. Simply, there was a lot of potential to the memoir but it never quite developed.

    One big missed opportunity in The Sunset Route's is that it nearly begins and ends in Alaska but Quinn doesn't take advantage of the concept. The image of Alaska would have been a great bookend and theme to give the narrative greater significance. At the end Quinn is an adult looking for her mother. She has been away for two decades away and this concept that her travels were spent looking for something only to begin and end in the same place, Alaska, is important and universal.

    The Sunset Route is a personal read about hard topics and is a story here worth telling. It has adventure and drama. Quinn never loses her ability to see the beauty in her surroundings and we see this through her writing. A last few pages show the potential for introspection and closure. Maybe she is already working on The Sunset Route, Part 2.
  • Tracey S. (Largo, FL)
    Enjoyable book
    I enjoyed this book! Carrot was a brave girl who grew up before she had to. The parts about her childhood broke my heart. Because her mom had mental health issues Carrot and her brother weren't taken care of the way they should have been. Their clothes were dirty and they went hungry. The way she traveled by train were interesting. She connected with the natural world and learned to live without many things that we take for granted. It was sad reading about how her grandparents treated her and her brother when they were living with them. I think this would be a great book club discussion book.
  • Valerie C. (Chico, CA)
    Carrot's life is like the dangerous train ride through the tunnel. Full of danger and little love. Her resilience and perseverance is amazing.
  • Marion T. (Palatine, IL)
    The Sunset Route
    Hearing about all the people, mostly men, riding the rails esp. during the Depression, I was most anxious to read of a young women today following this way of life. I am always interested in the different communities in our country living a totally different kind of life esp. one that I had never heard or thought about. I was a little disappointed in Quinn's book since I thought the majority of the book was about the rails and not of her self-discovery, but that said I am glad I read it. Would have liked to have some maps and/or pictures of the train routes and trains themselves. Must say, however, I do look at freight trains as I am stop at a crossing in a totally new way. That all being said I will recommend this book to one of my book clubs.
  • Katherine P. (Post Mills, VT)
    Heart-rending Memoir
    The story of Carrot's early life in Alaska was so devastating that it was necessary to take a break from reading. At first, also, the moving back and forth in time was a difficult adjustment but once I decided that that really is the way we think back over our lives, memories in random order many times within an hour's time, it became easier. The pain and loneliness and emotional toll of Carrot's life is stunningly described. For the first time it has become clearer to me why people would choose to live this nomadic, emotionally distanced, seemingly unfettered life style. No number of springtime flowers or star-studded skies would ever compensate for a lack of love and emotional bonds and the need to dumpster dive to eat. How she managed to pull anything resembling a life worth living together is nothing short of miraculous.
  • Melissa R. (Green Bay, WI)
    Sunset Route
    The Sunset Route is a memoir along the lines of Educated, The Glass Castle, and Hillbilly Elegy. The author, Carrot Quinn, as a child is neglected in every possible way, The father has abandoned the family and the mother is a schizophrenic who spends her time in the bedroom talking to the Virgin Mary while her children starved. At times, the neglect and poverty of Carrot and her brother are disturbing. Reading how she and her brother, dirty and hungry, would find their meals in dumpers was heartbreaking. As her story progresses, life doesn't get easier. In her twenties, she travels across the country living as a hobo, jumping freight trains, and living hand to mouth. Being a natural writer, she records in a journal every day. From this she is able to create her story. Her writing is beautiful, descriptions are vivid, and her voice is very real. Recovering from the scars of her childhood is a difficult, almost impossible thing to do as she deals with much loneliness.
  • Peggy H. (North East, PA)
    A Harrowing Read
    If I didn't know that this book is written as a memoir vs fiction, I would have found it hard to believe. I still find it upsetting that a child could live like this in our country--where so many have so much. All of it is described in a very matter of fact tone; there is no "woe is me" here at all.
    How many more children are out there eating out of dumpsters? How many people are in such need of mental health assistance? I marvel at the insight and intelligence of this woman to find a life from the scraps she is dealt. Although I would have liked a happy ending, in some ways the ending is more realistic, and not sad at all.

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