Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
The 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.
This is a wonderful story that plunges us into the lives of two people on completely different roads of their lives. On the outside they appear to be complete opposites, but through their companionship they find a common bond. There are two parallel stories being told. Vivian's story takes places years ago, while we hear Molly's story in the present tense. This method does not always work for me, but the Orphan Train had me hooked from page one.
Molly is a young girl who unfortunately is a product of our foster care system. She has a mother who couldn't handle the responsibility of caring for another person, so early on Molly was removed from her care. Molly struggles to find both her identity and her place in the world. When she is faced with the project of helping an old woman clean out her attic, she cannot know that she will finally come to terms with the person she truly is.
As Molly helps Vivian sort through all the items in her attic, the task apparently is going to take longer than anticipated. Every item has a story that needs to be shared and Vivian can't seem to part with a thing. So rather than throwing items in the trash or sending to a thrift store, they organize the remnants from Vivian's past, as Molly learns about the life this woman led. Molly never would have guessed that Vivian was once penniless and orphaned, as she herself is today.
The most important part of this novel was learning about the real orphan trains that brought children of all ages across the country in search of homes for them. I'm sure there are plenty of good stories, but many experiences seemed to mirror Vivian's, as the children were advertised as cheap labor. Your heart will probably break, as mine did, just trying to imagine the living conditions these children were placed in.
This truly was a wonderful story bringing to life to me a period of history that was new to me. With themes of family, secrets, and friendship, I'm sure you will enjoy this book as much as I did. I highly recommend this book for both personal leisure or as a book club discussion.
My Rating: 5/5
Disclosure: This book is from my personal library and I read it for my own entertainment and as a book club selection.