Thursday, August 08, 2013

Bookish Thoughts: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline


Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
William Morrow, 2013
Fiction; 304 pgs

The perfect books seem to be finding me at just the right moment this summer, as difficult as the past few months have been. Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train brought tears of sadness and of joy to my eyes.  I came to love both Molly and Vivian, wishing I could reach into the pages and hug them over and over again.

Molly Ayer has grown up in foster care, having lost her father at a young age and being neglected by her mother.  Molly, a Penobscot Indian, survives as best she can, not letting anyone get to close to her.  She's been bounced from home to home and labeled a delinquent most of her life even despite the circumstances being out of her control.

After a run in with the law, Molly is required to do community service or face juvenile hall.  She agrees to do her service hours in the home of an elderly woman.  Vivian Daly has Molly helping her sort through her possessions in the attic, and, bit by bit, the reader--and Molly--learn Vivian's history.  She and Molly are not so different from one another after all.

Vivian, born Niamh, came to New York from Ireland as a young girl.  Orphaned at the age of 9, she is put on a train along with hundreds of other children and sent to the Midwest to find new homes and families.  Niamh's first two families used her for labor, not treating her very well. Her story is one that made me both angry and sad--she was just a child and deserved a better life than the one she received.

While much of the story is Vivian's, of her childhood and life as an orphan, Molly's own story framed it well.  The two women faced similar struggles growing up, including their struggle to find and maintain their own identities, cultural and otherwise.  I liked the juxtaposition of the two stories, the past and the present and the way they came together.

I knew nothing about orphan trains before first hearing about this book several months ago.  From about 1853 to the early 1900's, homeless and orphaned children were sent by train from the East Coast of America to the Midwest, placed with any family willing to take them.  Some children were adopted while others were taken in to perform labor--some both.  It was heartbreaking reading Vivian's story, about how a child of only 9 was seen as a source of labor rather than the young girl she was.  She wasn't offered the love and safety she most needed.  And through no fault of her own.

I can't help but think of Molly too, moving from foster home to foster home, never finding the love and stability she most needed.  I admit Vivian's story touched me more so than Molly's.  Perhaps in part because Vivian's story took up the majority of the book. It would be easy to say Molly's experience wasn't nearly as bad as Vivian's had been, and in some ways that might be true.  But in others, not so much.  I don't think it's really fair to compare in that way as each of us have a unique story all our own and our trials and experiences affect us in varying ways.  Still, there were moments I wished Molly had held her tongue, knowing it would make things easier for her.  Easy to say from my perspective.  Not so easy from hers. Ultimately, I saw a bit of myself in Molly--or rather, a bit of my teen self in Molly--and so I understood where she was coming from even if we had entirely lives.

Both women are extremely resilient.  Whether a natural tendency or forced to be through circumstance.  I admired their strength and wanted so much for them to find their happy ending.  The two women, who, on the outside, couldn't be more different, were just what the other one needed.  They learned from each other, and grew as a result.

Christina Baker Kline did a wonderful job of bringing her characters to life for me, as well as making me feel and care for them.  I liked the way the author connected all the pieces of the story together. I did not want the novel to end.  I would like to have spent more time with Vivian, listening to her stories. And I really would have liked to know more about Molly's future, what happens to her down the road.  Still, I think the novel ended in a good place.  Yet another novel that left me with a big smile on my face.


Rating: * (Very Good +)

To learn more about Christina Baker Kline and her books, please visit the author's websiteYou can also learn more about the author by visiting his Facebook page, and Twitter account.

I hope you will check out what others had to say about Orphan Train on the TLC Book Tours route!



Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. The publisher provided a print copy of the book to read; however, I purchased an e-copy after the fact because it was more convenient for me to read it that way.


© 2013, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

37 comments:

  1. I like this type of story and first heard about the Orphan trains in a book that I read last year....name escapes me right now.

    Glad you enjoyed this one Wendy.

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    1. Diane - I was surprised that part of history had escaped my notice. I am sure there is much that has, but still . . .

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  2. I first read about orphan trains in The Chaperone and then I asked my mom about them. It's hard to believe they treated children like that, isn't it? This book sounds terrific!

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    1. Kathy - The Chaperone was the other place I'd heard about orphan trains earlier this year--I have that book waiting to be read too. I think you'd really like Orphan Train and hope you are able to read it.

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  3. I was surprised when I realized that orphan trains existed in real life. I had never heard of them before this book. Can you imagine? In theory, it doesn't sound all that bad but putting them up there like livestock. Ugh.

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    1. Ti - And no screening of the families who took in the children. It was a sad situation for so many of those children.

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  4. A few years ago I watched a documentary about the Orphan Trains and did some further research. A link to the documentary and some other good links are on my blog post. I have this book down as a TBR. Thanks for the review!

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    1. Jenclair - Thanks for the link! I'm definitely interested in learning more.

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  5. This looks great, Wendy. I will definitely add it to my list. Wonderful review!

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    1. Steph - Thanks! I hope you enjoy it if you read it!

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  6. I'm so glad you liked this one. I didn't find Molly's story as compelling in the early to mid portions of the novel, but I did end up loving her. Great book!

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  7. I am definitely adding this on to my to-read list - I think its my kind of book.

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    1. Carrie - I think you would like this one, so I hope you do get a chance to read it!

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  8. I keep going back and forth on this one. First I think I'll read it and then I think I won't. Now I'm thinking it's well worth the read. I'm trying to remember what it was that I've read by the author before.

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    1. Lisa - I know how that goes. I'm on the fence about a few books. This is the first I've read by this author, but I do think I'll seek out her older books to try.

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  9. I really enjoyed this book as well--one of my faves so far for 2013!

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    1. Melinda Ott - I gave a copy of the book to my mother-in-law for her birthday and she's really looking forward to reading it. :-)

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  10. Lovely review, Wendy!! This was a fantastic book and I loved both of these ladies too!!

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    1. Staci - It was such a good book! I didn't want it to end.

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  11. Without a doubt this is my kind of read even if it sounds like a box of tissues might be needed. Great review, thanks for the recommendation.

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    1. Tracy - I think you would really like this one. I do hope you get a chance to read it!

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  12. Wow, looks like you've been on a great reading streak lately! I wanted to read this when it first came out but it fell off my radar until this tour ... now it's back at the top of my list.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

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    1. Heather - I hope the streak lasts! I hope you are able to get to this one at some point, Heather. I know with so many books out there that sound good, it's hard to know what to pick up and read next.

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  13. I haven't read anything about the orphan trains, so I'm really excited about this book.

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    1. Joy - My interest is definitely piqued. Hopefully I can fit in The Chaperone soon. I've heard that one is good too.

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  14. This sounds like a really, really good read! I have to be in the right frame of mind for a book that will make me cry but they are usually worthwhile reads :) Thanks for making me want to read this one- I'll add it to my TBR list now!

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    1. Samantha - This book is such an upper. It has its darker moments, but in the end, it's such a feel good book. I hope you are able to read it. It's worth it!

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  15. This sounds like a wonderful book. Thank you for the review! It's another one for my list.

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    1. Iliana - I hope you do get a chance to read it, Iliana. I really liked this one.

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  16. Another good review for this! I'm definitely adding it to my TBR list then :)

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    1. Melina (Book Musings) - I hope you enjoy it when you read it!

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  17. I so loved this book! I listened to the audiobook and it was amazing. This is one novel I won't soon forget.

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    1. Darlene - It was so good! I am glad you liked it too. :-)

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  18. This book has been very popular, but I've been on the fence until recently. I think I'll have to track down the audiobook. Wonderful review, Wendy.

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    1. Les - I hope you like it if you do listen to it, Les. It was the historical aspect of the story that first drew me to it, but I enjoyed both the historical and contemporary stories once I started reading.

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  19. I didn't read your entire review, simply because I must read this book, and I'm thinking you may have some spoilers. Thank You so much.

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