Sunday, April 7, 2013

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

I've been eagerly awaiting this novel and have decided that everyone in my city needs to read it, and planned accordingly.  My manager has graciously allowed me to plant a table in our cashwrap line, pile this book on it, and sell the hell out of it.  

And it isn't hard to do, because it's a wonderful novel.  I loved it and can't wait to tell my book groups about it.  

This novel is about two young girls, decades apart, who share so much in common:  both have experienced tragedy in their lives; both are left to fend for themselves in a world that doesn't seem to care about them at all; both have been changed by their experiences and fight to keep their true selves alive and well through all of their heartbreak.

Molly is a teenager in the foster system who lives in a small Maine town. She's been in and out of many foster homes, and currently lives with a couple who don't get along with her at all.  She's a Penobscot Indian, and has lost her father to a car crash and her mother to a life of crime and drugs.  She's tough--her exterior Goth look hides someone who is very sensitive and just wants to find a safe place to land.  

Molly has to serve 50 hours of community service and with the help of her boyfriend, Jack, she meets Vivian, a 91 year old widow living in a large home in town.  Vivian has an attic full of trunks, boxes, and a lifetime of "stuff" and needs help cleaning it out.  Molly and Vivian meet, and a tentative bond is formed.

Vivian is a very interesting character, and so much like Molly--when she was a young girl heading West on an orphan train in 1929.  Vivian--actual name Niamh (pronounced Neev)n is an immigrant from Ireland who has lost her family to a fire in their apartment in New York City.  She finds herself on an orphan train with only the claddagh necklace her grandmother gave her to keep her memories of her family alive.  She literally has nothing, and is going to an unknown life.  Vivian's life is told from 1929 to 1943; memories are shared with Molly as they go through the attic--a mustard colored coat, a brown dress, letters from a soldier.  Vivian and Molly slowly begin to connect, as Molly realizes Vivian understands what it is like to be alone in the world, and how it affects a person's ability to be themselves.  Both keep so much inside; both learned to smile and nod, and not share themselves in order to protect themselves from hurt and disappointment.  

Molly and Vivian are great characters.  Your heart just aches for both of them and all they go through when they are so young.  The plight of the orphan train children  is a fascinating tale, and one that is uniquely American.  Orphan trains ran from 1864 to 1929 and sent over 200,000 children away from the East Coast and into the Midwest, to be adopted by families and have a new life.  While many did find happy homes, so many others were treated poorly, worked  like adult laborers, and often ran away.  So many had heartbreak and disappointment, and lost everything connecting them to their original families.  
This novel may very well propel you into reading all you can about the orphan trains.  

I so enjoyed this novel.  Christina Baker Kline wrote a novel that touches your heart while not being maudlin at all.  You find yourself eagerly reading about Vivian's journey. Molly's journey takes her away from anger and disappointment and into the belief that she can be what she wants to be; there are people out there who do care about her.  Her metamorphosis from feeling like a victim to becoming empowered in her decisions is a part of the novel that I so enjoyed--and she pulls Vivian along with her, too.  You are never too old to come to terms with the past and move to a place of acceptance, grace, and peace.  

This was a quick read--I finished it in a day or so  (in between work, exercise, and life!).  I think high school students should read this, as well as anyone in the foster care system.  Book clubs would also find this a great discussion novel.  I would also recommend reading Mercy Train by Rae Meadows if you haven't already!  

Rating:  8/10 for two great characters--Molly and Vivian.  Both have fascinating stories that will grab you and not let go until the last page.  And this book makes you think about who we are, and how our experiences shape us.  

Available in paperback and as an e-book.


  1. Thanks for linking up with Books You Loved. Have a great week.

  2. THANKS for a FABULOUS review.

    I have this on my list...it's coming up in the queue in two books. :)

    Looking forward to the read after your wonderful review.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved April Edition. I am in the list as #21.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Entry

  3. This was so interesting because it was a part of history that I never knew about. Yes I realize it was fictional but never the less based on what did actually happen to some children. The information and pictures the author added at the end of the book were indeed quite amazing. I would highly recommend this book! I think this story needs to be heard by all.