Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: Orphan Train

Orphan Train
by Christina Baker Kline
Why did you choose this book? I have heard so much about this one and it really sounded interesting
When did you read this book? July 2013
Who should read this book? readers of contemporary fiction with a historical link
Source: TLC Book Tours
Here is a synopsis of Orphan Train from Goodreads.

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.

My Review 

This book has received a lot of hype this year and has been getting great reviews, so it really caught my eye. I wanted to read it, but as with many books that get so much hype, I was prepared to be disappointed. Fortunately for me, that did NOT happen. This was a very quick (it took me 2 days, including the 4th of July holiday) and a very good read.

This is not what I usually think of as ‘historical fiction’ although it does have a strong historical component. I would think of this more as ‘period’ fiction since much of the story takes part in an earlier period, but it doesn’t really tell a lot of ‘history’ or weave historical events and people into the story.

The story is told from alternating viewpoints in alternating periods of history. Vivian is an elderly widow who was orphaned at a young age, with a lifetime full of memories stored in her addict. Molly is a contemporary teenage, half Indian and growing up in the foster care system, and is on the verge of going to ‘juvie’. The alternative to juvie is to do 50 hours of community service, which she agrees to do by helping Vivian clean out her attic.

Vivian and Molly have a lot in common, having both been orphaned at a young age and bounced from home to home. Because their stories were so similar, at the beginning of the book I had trouble keeping their stories straight and remembering who was orphaned under what circumstance. But I think this was the whole point, to demonstrate how much they had in common, and it straightened itself out pretty quickly. Once I got a few pages into the story, I had trouble putting the book down, and probably would not have if I hadn’t been interrupted by the Fourth of July festivities!

There were really some sad moments in the story, and some frustrating moments, particularly in Vivian’s story. There were a couple of big twists near the end that added to the sadness and made you wonder about the ‘could have beens’. I had never heard about the orphan trains, so this was a great introduction. It is also an interesting way to compare the ‘orphan train’ system to the foster system of today, and to consider how much things may have improved and how much more is still needed. I really enjoyed this story and was sad to have to leave the characters behind!

You can visit the author's website here, where you can access audio book samples, find a reading group guide and learn more about orphan trains. You can also view a book trailer, shown below.

My Rating:  ★★★★1/2   4-1/2 Stars

This book review is included in a tour by TLC Book Tours. I received a copy of the book in return for an honest review, which you can read above.

Below is the complete schedule for the tour.
Tuesday, June 25th: BoundbyWords
Thursday, June 27th: Bibliophiliac
Tuesday, July 2nd: Turn the Page
Wednesday, July 3rd: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Thursday, July 11th: Tina’s Book Reviews
Tuesday, July 16th: A Patchwork of Books
Tuesday, July 23rd: Time 2 Read
Thursday, July 25th: bookchickdi
Thursday, August 1st: Life in the Thumb
Friday, August 2nd: West Metro Mommy
Thursday, August 8th: Literary Feline
Tuesday, August 13th: A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, August 19th: nomadreader

1 comment:

  1. You are so right that the foster care system is better than the orphan trains, but we still have a long way to go in our society's care of orphans - that's for sure!

    Thanks for being on the tour.