Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review of 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.

Happy New Year everyone! The first book I finished reading this year was Orphan Train. I rated Orphan Train a 4.5 out of 5 stars, so I'm glad I started with it! (Little disclaimer: I'm writing this review in the middle of the worst case of the flu I've ever had in my entire life, so don't judge me too hard.)

Orphan Train follows the perspectives of two girls that are closer than they think: Molly and Vivian. Vivian, who was orphaned as a young child in the 20's, is now an old lady who needs Molly's help. Molly, a child who is now a teen who grew up moving from home to home in foster care, is in trouble after she tries to steal a book and now has to do community service as a punishment. Molly's community service consists of cleaning out some old lady's (Vivian's) attic. Molly is less than thrilled and Vivian doesn't know what to think. The two ladies learn about themselves and each other and leads to an outstanding friendship.

This book was the perfect mixture of contemporary and historical fiction. The title, Orphan Train and Vivian's story is based on actual history, as the orphan train system was actually real. This connection to real history and Kline's interviews with actual riders of the train (Acknowledgements) made this novel so fantastic.

 I loved Vivian's parts of the novel, as they take place in the 20's and 30's in various locations. Vivian's recounts her journey to adulthood and her past as a child on the orphan train. Vivian was adopted and abused countless times. We follow Vivian's journey until she finds a permanent family. The reader follows Molly's journey to find happiness and the story recounts Molly's rough childhood. As the perspective changed, I loved the story more and more. I rated this a 4.5 out of 5 stars simply because I found Molly's character annoying throughout mostly the first half of the novel. Other than that, I absolutely loved it and I completely recommend it.

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