Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

Book: Orphan Train

Author: Christina Baker Kline

Pages: 278

Read On: My Kindle

How Long it Took Me To Read: 1 day

Plot Summary: 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.

General Thoughts: This book was a recommendation from GoodReads and it seemed interesting enough and so, I bought it on Kindle. 

Things I Liked: Loads to like, let's get started: 
  • The setting of the book seemed very interesting. Half of the book is set during the Great Depression (starting in 1929 and going on some detail till 1939 or so), a period on which so much has been written, but, to me, is still an endlessly fascinating and tragic period to read about. 
  • Apart from the setting, the premise of the book seemed very new (to me) and interesting. I had only heard about the 'orphan trains', yes, it is as awful as it sounds, where trainloads of orphans from the East Coast of the US were sent off to unknown families in the Mid-West. These families were not vetted in any way and no one had any idea of knowing if these families would even treat these kids well. Truly scary stuff! 
  • Loved Vivian aka Niamh aka Dorothy. She was such a brave, sensible and wonderful character to read about. Someone who had to grow up really quick once her parents died and had to show a lot of maturity and emotional restraint as she began to rely on the kindness of strangers. Her journey was, mostly, nicely done. 
  • Molly was also a well-crafted character. She did not seem very annoyingly YA, which is always a good thing! She, much like Vivian, was sensible, restrained and mature. I was rooting for her to make something for herself and was so happy to see how her character progressed. 
  • I, especially, loved how the author understood and got under the skin of an orphan or someone in the foster care system. How it felt to have very little to your name, how you're always on your best behaviour so as not to incur the displeasure of your adopted parents/ foster parents... It was heart-breaking how even after years of living with her adoptive parents, Vivian couldn't speak her mind or do things that her parents wouldn't necessarily approve (something as simple as watching a movie with her girlfriends) because she was always afraid that they'd get rid of her. 
  • The supporting cast of characters were much better developed (and nicer too) in Vivian's story than Molly's. I loved Miss Larsen and Fanny and Mrs. Murphy. 
Things I Didn't Like: Very few...
  • Vivian made a huge decision in the wake of a tragic, life-altering event, which I felt was something no orphan would do. *SPOILER* Vivian giving away her baby for adoption after Dutchy died made no sense. Especially, when her adoptive mother and Mrs. Murphy. How can you enforce the same fate on your child that you had to endure?! It is not something anyone who is adopted would willingly inflict on a child, less so on a child one's had with the love of their life! *END SPOILER*
  • I wish there was more of Dutchy in the book.. We got to know him on the train ride and then the years he had with Vivian did not even get half a chapter! Come on! 

Rating: 4/5 

This is a good book to pick up if you enjoy historical fiction and stories that go back and forth between present day and sometime in the past.

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