on September 12, 2013
I am a prolific reader, one who will read just about any genre. However, I still am quite picky and if a story does not grab me within the first few chapters, you could say I'm pretty much done. I don't rely on reviews and I have never felt the need to write one until I read the very last word of "Orphan Train". For the life of me, I can not tell you the last time a novel has sucked me in the way this one has and for once I was not disappointed to come to the end of a story - it was that satisfying and a truly "full circle" ending. I will not go into the details of this novel because others have done so, probably much better than I can, but I will say that if I were to name the best book I've read in who knows when, upon pain of death (well, maybe insurmountable pain), I'd have to name this extraordinary novel by Christina Baker Kline. I'll be sure to try her other novels, but I'm afraid I've been spoiled...
on April 28, 2013
Well written. I finished this book in one sitting. I love the history, I am seventy years old and had never heard of the orphans trains, and neither had any of my friends.
The best way to learn history, with a great story as the backdrop!
on April 29, 2013
A solid piece of historical fiction, this story captured me from beginning to end. The ending was perfect, leaving me with a good feeling. The past and the present are beautifully woven together through Vivian and Molly, while spinning a tale of twisting emotions.
Seventeen year old Molly, a foster child who is about to be too old for foster care, is given fifty hours of community service for trying to steal a book. In the past nine years, Molly has been in over a dozen foster homes, some for as little as a week. She's become very defiant. The one thing Molly hates most about the foster care system is the dependence on people you barely know, your vulnerability to their whims. She has learned not to live a life of expectations. She's not too keen on devoting fifty hours of her life to Vivian in a drafty attic, going through endless boxes of stuff.
Ninety one year old Vivian Daly, lives in a fourteen room victorian mansion and wants to have her attic cleaned out with the help of Molly. There are many boxes to be opened and Vivian's past is soon revealed. Vivian's family left Ireland for America in 1929 in hopes of a brighter future, thinking they were on their way to a land of plenty. But, they failed miserably, ill suited for the rigors of emigration. The family meets with tragedy and Vivian is soon on her way to the mid-west on the orphan train - headed for the unknown.
I was not at all familiar with this strange and little known episode in our nation's history. The orphan trains existed from 1854 - 1929. Each child has a sad tale; they wouldn't be on the train otherwise. They are told that they are lucky to be on this orphan train. They are leaving an evil place, full of ignorance, poverty and vice, for the nobility of country life. They had simple rules to adhere to and if they didn't obey these rules, they would be sent back to where they came from and discharged on the street, left to fend for themselves.
Adoptive parents gathered at the train stations looking for a child to adopt. A child is selected for free on a ninety-day trial, at which point, they had the right to send the child back. But, too many times the children were abused. Babies and healthy older boys were typically chosen first. Older girls were chosen last. If a child wasn't chosen, they'd get back on the train and try again at the next town.
The author brings richness and life to this compelling story - completely absorbing and wonderfully written. I highly recommend.
on June 3, 2014
As others have written, this novel goes back and forth between a teenage girl [Molly] "with attitude" and an elderly woman [Vivian] who rode the "orphan train" from New York to the Midwest in the 1920's. While the historical telling of this unusual saga in American history had the potential to be fascinating, this book does not rise to that level. It is full of stereotypes and a simplistic recounting of the trials and tribulations of Vivian from the time she's loaded onto the train as a young basically abandoned child through the war years. She lands in some pretty awful families; there's the abusive family including a lecherous sicko father, a cruel adoptive "mother" who makes her sleep on a palette in a hallway. Then there's the kind teacher who rescues her. As for Molly, she's not either believable or likeable - really, she steals "Jane Eyre" from the library? And, of course, she's got the evil adoptive "mother". I never "got' any true connection between Molly and Vivian other than the obvious, both orphans of sorts. And the ending wraps everything up too much in a neat little bow.
Two other things bothered me about this book: Vivian is only nine [and a deprived nine-year-old at that] and yet she observes things in a very mature manner, observing architectural details, for example. The other thing is the author's seeming obligation to make Molly's world coarse via the usual ugly language, lots of s-words and f-words. Kind of seemed forced to seem "present day" and only highlights how low our culture has sunk. But was it really necessary?
Characters are stereotypes and not developed thoughtfully. And finally, I found the writing more on the level of a Young Adult novel as others have also noted.
An irritating book. And a lost opportunity to really get into the historical nature of this peculiar bit of our past.
on May 31, 2014
Vivian is an elderly, childless widow who has a story to tell, but no one who is interested in listening. Molly is a foster child, bounced from family to family. She has become jaded over the years, but still has a good heart buried deep inside. Through a series of events, Molly finds herself needing to work off some community service hours. The mother of her boyfriend works for Vivian as housekeeper, and wants someone, anyone, to get Vivian into her overstuffed attic and clean it out.
What starts out as an assignment in which Molly merely expects to serve out her time turns into a much deeper experience for her. As each box in the attic is opened, Vivian begins to talk about the significance of each item, and through her eyes Molly (and we) see the reality of the Orphan Train experience.
As Vivian relates her life, from Irish immigrant child, to the loss of her family in a tragic fire, to the forced move west on the Orphan Train and the sadness and happiness that come from that, we see Molly grow as well. She, who started out at as cynical and detached, opens up to Vivian and begins to enjoy their time together. In the end, she orchestrates a reunion for Vivian that is both touching and unexpected.
This is a good read. The characters are well developed over the length of the book. The story is engaging, and is true to the period (both flash-back and current). I recommend.
on May 21, 2015
A friend of mine recommended this book to me. I was moved by the experiences of both the young girl and the older woman, Vivian. While I read ORPHAN TRAIN, I felt as if I were experiencing an awakening of both women's hearts with the memories that were shared. This book gives insight into the idea that trust can so easily be shattered in people through harsh experiences, and that it takes special people to break through the walls that others put up to protect themselves.
I also was touched by the two women, who seemed to be so different on the surface, one youthful, angry, Goth, loud and bitter, and the other, elderly, elegant, quiet, thoughtful, and perceptive, both coming together and discovering a thread that held them together.
When Vivian met her daughter, there was closure for me. The last lines felt good, and yet gave the impression that the story would live on. I was glad I read this book. I learned history of the orphan train, which was something I'd never heard of before, which was very insightful. Yet, a more important message that came through for me was that people ought not to judge and rather, learn the whole story when it comes to people we don't understand. We need to know that in these days, there are children much like those from the orphan train, who need others to help them through their messed up lives. This was a wonderful story with a wonderful message.
on March 13, 2014
This is a solid read. Enough history to learn something I didn't previously know, and enough fiction to keep me very interested. I really enjoy reading this genre, and love character development. I recommend it to anyone who won't miss gratuitous sex, and explicit/repetitive/nonsensical violence. It was realistic (how people can treat fellow humans so poorly is an ongoing mystery to me) but it was part of the making of these individuals, and then the greater story of overcoming such adversity. It pulled me into the tale and I enjoyed it immensely.
on February 20, 2014
The orphans trains were real and often heartbreaking for the children involved although the organizers had good intentions at the time.
The children were already orphans and did need homes but shipping them across the country did not work out as intended. So the pretty girl meets the handsome boy on the train and they are separated for a few hard years and then by a stroke of luck they meet again and it gets worse from there.
This book seemed to diminish the true tale of the orphan trains themselves and turned them into a soap opera.
Would not recommend this book to anyone.
on March 1, 2014
I bought this book to read for a book group I'm in. I was very disappointed with the writing. The story itself--at least the one about Vivian--is compelling. (I was unable to develop any interest in Molly, because she seemed a stereotype.) But the characters have no unique voices, the dialogue is stilted and not quite credible, and the storytelling looks to be in need of a good edit. Motivations sometimes were not believable.
I was shocked to find that this is an author who's gotten a writer-in-residence position at Fordham. Her choices of tense and point of view did not work for me. Overall this book read like an unworkshopped draft of what *could* be a good novel. I can compare the level on which the book was written to that of the kind of romance novels you can pick up at WalMart.
The story behind the book, of the orphan trains, is extremely important and compelling. I would have liked to find the book heartwarming, but it felt more of an agenda piece written to be accessible to the non-intellectual reader. I felt like the author was talking 'at' me through a kind of superficially worked-out parable. The 'reading group' questions in the back of the book support that feeling. Rather than read a mediocre book about an important topic, I would have preferred to read a work that was also important as fiction. This book didn't make it for me; I would have tossed it aside about three pages after the Prologue if I hadn't been committed to discussing it in a group I'm in.
on February 6, 2014
I found the subject matter quite interesting and it made me want to learn more about the Orphan Trains. The writing was good and kept the story moving and the parallel stories were brilliant! My one criticism that bothered me throughout the book...the villainess. Molly's 'evil' foster mother was portrayed as evil because she was a conservative, Right to Life woman who believes that people should be responsible for their lives. She was portrayed as a mean, angry, bigoted person because she held those beliefs. It gave much too much away about the authors personal political views that were unnecessary to the story. This point of view throughout the book spoiled the story for me and I would not select another book written by this author...