Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Orphan Train

I feel like I hardly have time to do fun reads right now, so while being sick I finished one so I'll share it with you now.

Orphan Train - Christina Baker Kline
Orphan Train
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.

One of my most favorite things is when I read a book that talks about something that really happened, and the book is so good it makes me want to learn more about it. This book does that for me. I honestly didn't think the "orphan trains" were real but they in fact really were real and it's both horrifying and fascinating. Essentially, if you were a child back in the early 1900's and your parents, for whatever reason, couldn't care for you, you would end up in an orphanage. The orphanages would run the orphan trains and load children up in them with very few belongings and almost nothing of personal value. Then they would parade the children out at different stops and people could just cherry pick a child. As long as you say you'll do right by them and give them a good life, you're good to go. Never mind these people could essentially use the children for slave labor on farms or do god knows what to them. Some children probably went to legitimate homes but most children didn't and would be bounced around, much like present day foster care. 

Which is where this story begins. It's the shared story (kind of) of Vivian, who was a rider of the orphan train and Molly, a foster kid who is misunderstood and hates the world. Molly attempts stealing a book from the library and as a consequence, she is to do 50 hours of a community service. Her boyfriend's mother is a housekeeper for Vivian and reluctantly agrees to introduce the two. Molly is to clean out Vivian's attic but what begins as a clean out project quickly morphs into a trip down memory lane. As Molly says at the end, it's more about Vivian seeing everything she's saved one last time. 

You hear far more about Vivian's experience on the train as well as the several families she is with before finally finding one that kept her until adulthood. You hear about her first love (which I so badly want to tell you how I feel about the ending of that but I can't because it's a huge spoiler- just know my heart broke and I cried), the daughter she had (and what happened to her), and the wrap up of her story essentially. But you also learn about Molly and you instantly feel terrible for her. You want to smack her foster parents and you just want to take her in yourself. 

I finished this book in a flash and it's one of those that I will likely read again. Christina Baker Kline is an absolutely wonderful writer and I am so glad I picked this one up on a whim. Absolutely does not disappoint, I cannot praise this book enough. 

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