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Orphan Train Paperback – Deckle Edge, April 2, 2013
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A long journey from home and the struggle to find it again form the heart of the intertwined stories that make up this moving novel. Foster teen Molly is performing community-service work for elderly widow Vivian, and as they go through Vivian’s cluttered attic, they discover that their lives have much in common. When Vivian was a girl, she was taken to a new life on an orphan train. These trains carried children to adoptive families for 75 years, from the mid-nineteenth century to the start of the Great Depression. Novelist Kline (Bird in Hand, 2009) brings Vivian’s hardscrabble existence in Depression-era Minnesota to stunning life. Molly’s present-day story in Maine seems to pale in comparison, but as we listen to the two characters talk, we find grace and power in both of these seemingly disparate lives. Although the girls are vulnerable, left to the whims of strangers, they show courage and resourcefulness. Kline illuminates a largely hidden chapter of American history, while portraying the coming-of-age of two resilient young women. --Bridget Thoreson
“A compelling story about loss, adaptability, and courage . . . With compassion and delicacy Kline presents a little-known chapter of American history and draws comparisons with the modern-day foster care system.” (Library Journal)
“In ORPHAN TRAIN, Christina Baker Kline seamlessly knits together the past and present of two women, one young and one old. Kline reminds us that we never really lose anyone or anything or--perhaps most importantly--ourselves.” (Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle)
“I loved this book: its absorbing back-and-forth story, its vivid history, its eminently loveable characters. ORPHAN TRAIN wrecked my heart and made me glad to be literate.” (Monica Wood, author of When We Were the Kennedys)
“One of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read...I am compelling all of you, even begging you, to make this novel your next read. You’ll be talking about it for years to come!” (Naples Daily News (FL))
“A gem.” (Huffington Post)
“Absorbing...a heartfelt page-turner about two women finding a sense of home...Kline lets us live the characters’ experiences vividly through their skin...The growth from instinct to conscious understanding to partnership between the two is the foundation for a moving tale.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Kline draws a dramatic, emotional story from a neglected corner of American history.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“I was so moved by this book. I loved Molly and Vivian, two brave, difficult, true-hearted women who disrupt one another’s lives in beautiful ways, and loved journeying with them, through heartbreak and stretches of history I’d never known existed, out of loneliness toward family and home.” (Marisa de los Santos, New York Times-bestselling author of Belong to Me and Falling Together)
“A lovely novel about the search for family that also happens to illuminate a fascinating and forgotten chapter of American history. Beautiful.” (Ann Packer, New York Times-bestselling author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier and Swim Back to Me)
“Christina Baker Kline writes exquisitely about two unlikely friends . . . each struggling to transcend a past of isolation and hardship. ORPHAN TRAIN will hold you in its grip as their fascinating tales unfold.” (Cathy Marie Buchanan, New York Times-bestselling author of The Painted Girls)
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It is the year 2011, and nearby in the same town of Spruce Harbor, lives a seventeen-year-old girl named Molly Ayer who has bounced from foster home to foster home, and is now in a situation involving petty theft that will require some kind of community service.
Told in beautifully evocative prose, the story unfolds in alternate perspectives, revealing what has happened to each of them, and how the parallel lines of their lives now converge to spotlight the similarities between them.
From Vivian's early childhood in Ireland, to New York City, comes her passage on the Orphan Trains in 1929. A journey that will take her to Minnesota, from one home to another, never really knowing what home feels like, as she is treated like a slave and seldom has enough of anything, much less affection or love.
What Molly sees when she meets the elderly woman is a wealthy person who could not begin to understand her or her issues. But as the two of them clean out the boxes in the attic, the stories they share with one another reveal so much more than either could have suspected.
The characters, both the primary ones and the supporting ones, brought so much color and emotion to the stories that I could feel as though I were sitting in their midst, observing and listening to them. And as I neared the end of Orphan Train: A Novel, I really could not have imagined a more beautiful or satisfying conclusion, and with it came a feeling that these characters would live on in my memories.
At one point, Molly is at Vivian's home, taking in her recent good fortune:
"Sitting in the rocker in the kitchen, looking out at the water, Molly feels oddly at peace. For the first time since she can remember, her life is beginning to make sense. What up until this moment has felt like a random, disconnected series of unhappy events she now views as necessary steps in a journey toward...enlightenment is perhaps too strong a word, but there are others, less lofty, like self-acceptance and perspective...."
It is impossible to read this story and not take away from it the knowledge that wonderfully unexpected moments can happen in a life, even in one that is full of turbulence, pain, loss, and the sense of being an outsider. And when such moments occur, it is also impossible not to celebrate. Or feel the sense of exuberance that comes with the gifts of love, acceptance, and second chances. A story with a perfect ending that I won't share here, for fear of spoiling it for the reader. Suffice it to say that you will love Vivian and Molly and will feel the joy of their unique connection. Five stars.
I learned on the very first page entitled “Dear Reader” that Christina Baker Kline decided to revamp the book (or a certain situation in the book) slightly due to reader feedback. As she says, she “would have the chance to fix small errors, update factual information, clarify and sharpen the language in places, and – most important – add a scene that I’ve long regretted not including.” Ms. Kline even mentioned Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory in her letter to the reader.
The book was definitely a “could not put down” experience for me. I read it over the course of three days only because I had events to attend over a weekend or I probably would have finished it half that time.
ORPHAN TRAIN was a mix of favorite childhood books of mine such as ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, HEIDI, and UNDERSTOOD BETSY, and Ms. Kline used the L.M. Montgomery Anne book in her story. Niamh (pronounced Neev) was an Irish immigrant girl sent on an orphan train from New York City to Minnesota in the late 1920s. At the same time, the book is the 2011 story of Molly, a high-school teen getting ready to age out of foster care in New England. Niahm, changed to Dorothy and then to Vivian, and Molly meet unexpectedly when Molly is tasked with helping 91-year-old Vivian clean out her attic to get in community service hours for stealing a library book. This situation proved to be cathartic and affirming for both Molly and Vivian.
I thought Ms. Kline presented a wonderful story of historical fiction using flashbacks of Vivian’s life intertwined with a believable foster child in today’s system.
At the end of the new version, an author interview and reading group guide are presented, as well as a short history on the orphan trains.
ORPHAN TRAIN is now a personal favorite and one of my most highly recommended book I have reviewed.