Title: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Category: Adult Fiction, 320 pages
Genre: Women's Fiction / Historical
Published: April 2013
Content Rating: PG+13 (This book deals with mature subjects. There is parental abandonment and a partial rape scene of a child. There are also a few f-words and mild sexual content.)
Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?
As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.
Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.
Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, and unexpected friendship.
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I was curious from the moment I saw the title. Christina Baker Kline writes a touching, sad yet uplifting novel about a little-known part of American history, the Orphan Train Movement, which lasted from 1853 to the early 1900s with more than 120,000 orphaned or abandoned children placed. Orphan Trains stopped at more than 45 states across the country as well as Canada and Mexico and many of the children were first-generation immigrants from Italy, Poland and Ireland.
The story has a dual timelime, which was well done. It's both the story of 91 year-old Vivian Daly, a wealthy woman, and 17 year-old girl Molly Ayer, who has been in and out of foster homes since she was a child. They meet when Molly gets a chance to do community work by helping Vivian clean out her attic. They develop a friendship as Vivian unearths memories that she shares as they go through her belongings.
The author skillfully brings the 1920s Depression era to life. The writing flows smoothly and the author's meticulous research shines in this book. From a small town in Ireland, to the chaotic streets of New York teeming with immigrants and finally to the rural Midwest, the author is seamlessly able to create the settings with period details. The contemporary setting of coastal Maine is also brought to life.
Although I enjoyed the historical aspect of the story more than the contemporary one, Molly's story helped the reader see how similar her situation was to Vivian's. They both experienced foster care and had painful memories from being abandoned and foisted on other people. Vivian's story was more complex and longer, therefore I felt she was more prominent in the story and well-developed as a character.
My heart ached for those orphan children, and this story made me want to hug my kids more. One thing that stood out for me is that although there were those who mistreated orphans, the acts of kindness of a few made all the difference, reinforcing the fact that when it is in our possibility to do good, we must not hesitate to do it. It can make all the difference in the life of a child, or anyone for that matter.
I loved the way the author ends the book. It was the perfect ending to a bittersweet story. I also appreciated the author notes and insights at the back of the book. This was a poignant story about friendship, second chances, and learning to make peace with one's painful past.
Disclosure: Thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.
Christina Baker Kline is the author of five novels. She lives outside of New York City and on the coast of Maine.
Find out more about Kline at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.