Thursday, May 2, 2013

Orphan Train - Christina Baker Kline

I knew a little bit about orphan trains before this novel was selected for the May She Reads book club.  In the book "The Chaperone", one of the characters was actually an orphan on one of these trains...but before reading that book I had never heard of such a thing!

Running from some of the larger cities in the US like New York and Boston, from the years of 1853 to 1929, these trains would transport homeless and parentless children across the Midwest in search of foster homes.  The children would be lined up at each stop and interested families would select one and agree to care for the child and send them to school.  Unfortunately, there wasn't much follow up and often these children would end up in worse situations than they started.  After reading "The Chaperone", I had to do a little Googling (sign of a good book) and the faces of these little children who were hoping for a new life just broke my heart.  I was elated when I learned I would be reading more about this topic. 

 
Orphans delivered to Bowling Green with their chaperones


Synopsis:  Our modern day story introduces us to Molly Ayer, a Penobscot Indian and a 17 year-old girl in the foster care system.  She has had a rough life, and it hasn't gotten any easier with her foster care family, who seem to only want her around for the government allowance.  Molly is caught trying to steal a book (Jane Eyre) from a local library, and must serve community service hours as a punishment.  Through Molly's boyfriend, she finds a wealthy elderly lady named Vivian who needs help cleaning her attic, and Molly soon finds common ground with her.

As Molly helps Vivian sort through her possessions, she learns that Vivian was an Irish immigrant and orphaned in New York City in 1929 at the age of 9.  She is placed on an orphan train, eventually is chosen by a couple with ulterior motives, and with the stock market crash, things go from bad to worse.  Vivian begins to question if this is better than being homeless?  Molly hears the story of her journey...the deplorable conditions, the abuse, the unforgiving Minnesota winters, but also the kindness of strangers, the fierce determination to survive, and the endurance of friendship.  As Molly and Vivian grow closer, Molly begins to see a way that she can help her new mentor get answers that will put her mind at ease and vanquish some of the ghosts that have haunted her for decades.

My thoughts:  Overall, I loved this book and found it very easy to prioritize time to read it (in fact it took only days).  Often I struggle with a book that goes back and forth in time...I usually prefer one story line to another.  But I was equally interested in both.  Molly was obviously troubled and prickly, but I totally understood where she was coming from and for crying out loud, how can I not love a girl that wanted to steal Jane Eyre????  (She even tried to take the most tattered of the three copies.)  I could immediately see the good in her, and was warmed by the image of her growing close to this much older lady who had walked in her shoes.  I did think that this portion of the story was underdeveloped though, and fell into place a little too smoothly.  

The sections that talked about Vivian's history was absolutely riveting and was much more developed.  Oh Lord, the squalor and the mistreatment of this child...it sickened me.  But I equally was warmed by those that reached out to her and ultimately gave her a good life, and found Vivian's spirit to be inspiring and hopeful.  It seems like in every book I read, there has to be tragedy and death and sorrow, and there is plenty in this book, but I turned the last page with a light heart.  

As most of you know, I tend to stay away from long books, but this is one of those times when I think it could have used another hundred pages.  The history and the material is rich, and I was left wanting more.

4 out of 5 stars

 

24 comments:

Beth F said...

I've been curious about this -- the whole concept of the orphan trains is fascinating. And some of those poor kids ended up in horrible places and in a strange town with no friends.

Annette said...

I too just read and reviewed this book. I loved it. I was swept up in Vivian's story!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Sounds very interesting! I didn't know about those trains!

Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader said...

I'm glad you liked this one! I've recently read it myself and I'm looking forward to putting together my review. Learning the history of the orphan trains was fascinating, and sad.

JoAnn said...

The Chaperone introduced me to those orphan trains, too. When books go back and forth in time, I usually end up favoring one story, too... the fact that you liked both equally has me adding this one to my list!

bermudaonion said...

My mom and I talked about orphan trains after I read The Chaperone. She said a lot of people took kids off of those trains just for the cheap labor - all it cost was room and board - and that the kids weren't treated well. So sad. This book sounds fantastic!

Alyce said...

I was thinking about this in the context of the book "The Chaperone" too, since it's the only other story I know of that includes the orphan train as a plot point. I've heard good things about this one though, and it's nice to see that you liked it too.

Gina R said...

Oh yes. I've only heard of these trains once in a recent fiction/biography that I read (the name escapes me at the moment...*-*) but can you imagine? Gotta be hard on all parties, especially if the parents were merely separated from the children. Despite all the history, it may be one that I'll check out some day. Thanks for sharing...and happy reading!

Michele said...

How did you KNOW I just picked this little gem up at Costco? It's like you read my mind. I was a history major, so I knew about the trains, but they do tend to get lost in the mire.

Meg @ write meg! said...

Sounds like a different and fascinating story! I'm pretty unfamiliar with orphan trains, too. Love when a book teaches me a little something (or a lotta something!).

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I remember The Chaperone too when I heard about this book. I have been thinking about giving this one a read since Gayle really loved it. It's a great sign that you liked both stories. It's always a bit harder on the reader when one is of more interest than the other.

caite said...

Wait..how long was it?

Jeane said...

I just added this one to my list thanks to Bookfool. I never had heard of orphan trains before I read her review. It sounds good, if heartbreaking!

Tasha Brandstatter said...

I've never heard of orphan trains. This sounds really good, though! I loved your synopsis.

Ti said...

I agree. A few more pages of Molly's story would have been good. I felt that her piece was a bit rushed.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I'm hoping I can start and finish this one tomorrow to post about it on Monday. Glad to hear you liked it!

Darlene said...

I had heard of the orphan trains before but still it just horrifies me that young children had to go through that. Even the people that would come to pick them up - like they were just things and not human children. I can only imagine how those poor children must have felt.

Vivian's story was my favorite. Her story touches you from the very beginning. She seemed so brave for all she had to go through. I loved this book and I'm almost tempted to listen to it again. Lol.

BookBagLady said...

Great review! I also read "The Chaperone" and enjoyed it as well, but enjoyed the "Orphan Train" a little bit more.

Thanks for your review!

Sincerely,
Louise

Utah Mom said...

I really enjoyed Orphan Train but like you, would have liked it to be longer with more emphasis on Vivian's young adulthood and the decisions she made then. Nice review.

The Book Wheel said...

I agree that it was easy to follow both story lines. It helps that 2/3 of the book was on Vivian's story, because that was the more interesting one, whereas Molly was a way to tie it all together.

Kelly Stilwell said...

I just loved that book! I didn't know about orphan trains. It was so sad, but I loved the ending. Beautiful!

bookmagnet said...

Wonderful review, Sandy!

Rebecca @ Love at First Book said...

Ohhhh, I should read The Chaperone, then! I actually want to do a lot research on my own about the orphan train, since it really is such an interesting time in history that is very little known.

Here's my review of Orphan Train!

Julie P. said...

Great review! I had very similar feelings!