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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Orphan Train

Orphan Train
Review of Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Overview from Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?

As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.

My Review:

This book is part historical fiction and part semi-contemporary. (The contemporary part takes place in 2011.) It was suggested by someone who posts free books on the Barnes & Noble blog and sounded intriguing.
The story alternates between telling the experiences of Vivian Daly and Molly Ayer. We start off with Molly, a seventeen-year-old foster child who is defined mainly by her Goth persona, until she meets Jack.

When Molly is caught doing some unauthorized borrowing of the oldest of the three copies that the school’s library has of Jane Eyre, she is threatened with time in Juvie. But Jack has a plan. Molly will do some community service at Mrs. Vivian Daly’s house, helping her clean out her attic, in exchange for being spared from Juvie. Sounds like a good plan.

But then everything changes when Molly and the ninety-one year discover that they have more in common than they ever realized. Molly goes from foster home to foster home, trying to blend in while still keeping up with her vegetarian diet.

Vivian also got shuttle from home to home but her litany of bad experiences began just before the Great Depression with a ride on the “orphan train.” She too knows what is like to try to fit in and not complain—to feel like she has to apologize for whom she is and the burden that she has unwittingly placed on her caregivers.

The book seems to effortlessly weave these two women’s stories together. Not much has changed since Vivian rode the orphan train and was forced to reinvent herself. Like Molly, she has paid a heavy price just to survive and although she is successful now, she still remembers the time when she had nothing.

I liked this story a lot. I don’t think I would say I loved it but I really liked it. My favorite parts were mostly in Vivian’s story as I mostly identified with her. Though Molly was not as bad as her foster parents thought she was, she did have a bad attitude at times that made it harder for me to sympathize with her. Also the f-bombs were all mostly in the Molly part of the novel and that also turned me off to her character somewhat. Still, she didn’t deserve to be treated the way that Dina and some of the other adults had treated her.

I am recommending this story with the caveat that you want to avoid it if the f-bombs tend to bother you a lot. For me, it never got to the point where I stopped reading but I think someone who is very sensitive to them might be offended.
Contains: foul language, some sexuality (not all of it positive)

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