Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Posted on 10/01/2014 in Book Review / 5 Comments

Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker KlineOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Published by Harper Collins, William Morrow Paperbacks on April 2, 2013
Genres: Adult, Historical Fiction
Pages: 294
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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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.\r\n\r\nNearly 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.\r\n\r\nVivian 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.\r\n\r\nThe 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.\r\n\r\nRich 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.

A couple of weeks ago, I hosted the inaugural book club meeting for a group of women in my neighborhood. The book we chose for our first meeting was Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, and all eight of us really enjoyed it. As an adoptive mom, this book really resonated with me, and I was horrified to realize that this was a part of our American history that I was clueless about. By now, you guys are probably sick of hearing me say how much I like books that take place in two different times from two different perspectives. But here we go again…the book tells the stories of Vivian, beginning in the 1920’s as she is a 9-year old Irish immigrant living in New York who finds herself on the Orphan Train heading to the Midwest; and Molly, a present-day teenager in the foster care system.  Molly is facing community service and ends up spending those hours helping a now very elderly Vivian clean out her attic. In the process, she helps Vivian revisit her past and come to terms with things that happened, and realize that her story wasn’t over. The two of them form an unlikely friendship, and that bond ends up being important for both of them. I found myself looking forward to Vivian’s chapters. They were more intriguing, she was a more complex character, and my heart hurt for everything she had to endure. My only complaint with her story was that the later years seemed to be a bit rushed. It was unbelievable that these Orphan Trains actually existed and the children would just be handed out to anyone who showed up. Having gone through the process of adopting a child, it’s hard to believe that anyone could have ever thought that was a good idea! Molly’s character was a bit more stereotypical, and her “bad” foster parents seemed a bit contrived, but I still enjoyed her story. I liked the way she changed as she realized that maybe it wasn’t just her against the world, and I loved her connection with the feisty old Vivian. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline was a very compelling read. It was heartbreaking, it was hopeful, and it had me hooked from the very first page (and I should also add that Historical Fiction isn’t usually my thing). Even though parts of it were predictable, there were still a couple of things that took me by surprise. I think I read it in about two days, because I was so invested in finding out what happened to these two women. I was wishing SO hard for a happy ending for them! When I finished, I wanted to learn more about the Orphan Trains, and I was glad there was some information and historical photos in the back of the book. I had a great time discussing the story and hearing other perspectives and interpretations at Book Club. I’ve already passed my copy on to someone else to enjoy, and I highly recommend this one!

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Jessica’s addiction to books began at age 4, going on weekly trips to the library with her mom. After being a young fan of Sweet Valley High and The Baby-Sitters Club, she discovered the thrill of reading a book that made her want to leave the light on and check under the bed. Her all-time favorite author is Stephen King, but she will read just about anything! Jessica never leaves home without her e-reader, and considers it the best gift she ever received. Her other hobbies include running and going to Disney World as often as possible.


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5 responses to “Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

  1. Chandra Lawrie

    This book will be fantastic. I got my husband a book by Kent Hinckley, called Hearts, Minds and Coffee which is a novel about the Vietnam war, so he can read his book about history and I can read this one for my dose of history! Perfect!

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