April 2, 2013 by William Morrow
Paperback, 304 Pages
Review Copy/TLC book tour
Warning: Violence, depression era poverty
5/5 Stars- (17&Up)
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 widow clean out her attic 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.
Im positively blown away by this masterpiece called The Orphan Train, a book that at first held the possibility of a moving historical combined with a contemporary flair became a much more personal and notable read for me when I finished. Every detail in this story was so vivid and real, I could feel the air in Ireland, feel the move of the train, and sense the sorrow of both Vivian and Molly struggling to come to terms with the death, loss and abandonment of the ones who promised to care for them. The despairing feeling of belonging to no one and nowhere and always that small thread of hope that anyone, someone, just one person, would love them back. It was easy to see the characters so different yet so alike form a deep connection of uncommon friendship in such an unlikely place.
The story while focusing on the harrowing drama of these young girls (mostly Vivian's depression-era story) through immigration, abandonment and foster homes, also sheds light on the working class during the depression, a time that I really know nothing about, or really not what many Americans want to reflect on. How did this happen to orphaned children and did these things really happen? Was it so bad during that time that a parent, a mother could send her child to a life of servitude? If so why don't we talk about this in schools, in our education systems, in general history? So many thought provoking questions to think about after turning the last page that my mind was left spinning and my eyes just bawling.
Very seldom as a reader do I find books that reach a deep part of my heart as this book did. Due to my own personal life experiences, Im always and forever moved by individuals real or fictional who overcome rejection or loss, especially foster children and teens who have managed to make it on their own. Identity of oneself is an overwhelming emotion which can be confusing, isolating and scary when guidance and structure have left a persons life at a young age. I thought Kline did an amazing job touching on the fascinating and heartbreaking psyche of the abandoned child mindset. While at times painfully sad the book is almost impossible to put down and furthermore its one that will be impossible to forget.
Brave, touching and sure to grab you from page one.
Christina Baker Kline is a novelist, nonfiction writer, and editor. In addition to Orphan Train, her novels include Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, Desire Lines, and Sweet Water. Kline also commissioned and edited two widely praised collections of original essays on the first year of parenthood and raising young children, Child of Mine and Room to Grow. She coauthored a book on feminist mothers and daughters, The Conversation Begins, with her mother, Christina L. Baker, and she coedited About Face: Women Write About What They See When They Look in the Mirror with Anne Burt.
Kline grew up in Maine, England, and Tennessee, and has spent a lot of time in Minnesota and North Dakota, where here husband grew up. She is a graduate of Yale, Cambridge, and the University of Virginia, where she was a Hoyns Fellow in Fiction Writing. She has taught creative writing and literature at Fordham and Yale, among other places, and is a recent recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation fellowship. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her family.
Find out more about Kline at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.