Thursday, 13 February 2014

Orphan Train

Author: Christina Baker Kline
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Source: Public Library
Pages: 304
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
First Published: April 2, 2013
First Line: "I believe in ghosts."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from "aging out" of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life - answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are

My Review:  I loved this book and I'm going to try to not gush too much but this is one of the best books that I've read in a long time. For readers who adore historical fiction this is the book for you.  It's an emotional story set in an interesting era about circumstances that I (sadly) knew nothing about. 

Right from the beginning I knew that this was going to be a book that I was going to take precedence over laundry and any other non-essential home chores that I had to get done. Who needs clean jeans when Mom has a great book in her hand?!  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the stories of a 17 year old orphan and a 91 year old orphan train survivor would grab me from the beginning with its wonderfully well developed characters and its dual storylines in two different eras.

There are so many things that I loved about this book.  The writing was so clear and honest that the fear of these orphaned children was palpable as they were treated no better than merchandise to be given away to anyone who was interested in either (hopefully) adopting a child or, more often, free labour.  The author deftly handles writing two storylines in two different eras.  Her writing was so engaging and I found myself needing to find out what happened to Vivian.

But without interesting and well written characters great storylines can often fall flat.  That is not the case here.  The characters were well fleshed out and believable -- especially Vivian's story which helped me to get engrossed into the book.  My heart went out to this young girl who is thrust into a situation she could never have expected.
My only criticism is that, at times, Vivian felt like she was much more mature than her 9 years of age.  I realize that it was a different era but when I think about what my 10 year old can do and how she speaks it isn't in sync with little Vivian.  There were a few scenes where Vivian came off as more of a teenager than a young girl of nine.

This is a book about the unexpected bond between two very unlikely friends and it's an emotional look at how the orphan trains impacted these young children.  I'm thankful to Ms Baker Kline for educating me to a part of history that I knew nothing about.

In the end, this is a book about resilience, people's need for love, acceptance and how the feeling of belonging is so essential to everyone.  It's about the importance of sharing our personal stories with others and asking to hear other people's stories so that we're not forgotten.  Orphan Train was wonderfully and emotionally written about a time that I'm thankful that I now know more about.  This is a truly compelling and emotional read.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars


Best LED Light Cubes OnlyCubes said...

Well written. I finished this book in one sitting. I love the history, I am seventy years old and had never heard of the orphans trains, and neither had any of my friends.
The best way to learn history, with a great story as the backdrop!

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

I agree. I loved the characters and learning about a historical time that I knew nothing about. Such a great read from start to finish.

Anonymous said...

Just read your review of Cutting For Stone - can't believe you didn't like it. I find it very disturbing that you could comment intelligently when you didn't finish it. Truly a stunning book and my adage is if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all.

Sue - I am a Canadian

Best Reviews for Westport Fishing Charter Washington said...

Baker Kline writes a compelling, little known, piece of history with a style that keeps a reader engrossed. I'll definitely look forward to more of her books.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

I agree totally. It's still a popular book at the library where I work too which says a lot about the book. I'm also eager to read more from Baker Kline.

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