Book Review: Orphan Train

May 21, 2013 book review, Harper Collins, historical fiction, She Reads, William Morrow 4

Written by: Christina Baker Kline

Published by: William Morrow an imprint of Harper Collins April 2, 2013

Length: 273 pages

Source: Publisher for She Reads Book Club

I was thrilled when She Reads Book Club chose this book.  I first learned about the orphan trains when I listened to the book THE CHAPERONE last year.  I’m still feeling like a part of American history wasn’t taught to me in school.  This practice of putting orphans from infants – teen on a train heading west was amazing.  While it helped many children in an era of mass influx of immigrants to the eastern US, when children were left without parents for various reasons the orphanages couldn’t care for all these children, many children were left in abusive and tragically destitute situations.

This novel is the story of two very different women who surprisingly have much in common.  Molly Ayer is almost 18 years old, and is living in a tense foster care family.  She has always felt like an outsider, she is a Penobsot Indian and has never had a real family.  When Molly is caught taking a worn copy of Jane Eyre from the library without checking it out her only hope of staying out of further trouble is Community Service. 

Her boyfriends’ mother works for a rather comfortable elderly woman, 91 year old Vivian.  Vivian allows Molly to serve her service hours helping her clean out her attic.  These two begin has strangers and then hidden in all the “stuff” in her attic an attic Molly discovers that Vivian’s past has many parallels with her own life. 

Vivian  came to America from Ireland in 1927, her mother became very ill and she had to care for her brothers and infant sister Maisie.  Her real name was Niamh, pronounced Neev, and common in Ireland.  In a sudden and sad chain of events her father and brothers were killed in a fire, her mother was taken to a hospital, and Niamh was told she would not return, and that her baby sister had also died.  Neighbors were quick to turn her over to Children’s Aid, and before she knew it she was with a group of 20 children heading west.  Her journey is heartbreaking and as she begins to think her life won’t improve she reaches out to someone she trusts………and perhaps there is a chance for a better life.

Not only is the historical significance of this book fascinating, but the stories of Vivian and Molly are gripping.  Told in alternating chapters of Vivian’s youth and current times, I was eager to learn more about what led Vivian to the place and stature that her life has now taken her.  Her youth wasn’t always happy but she was able to strive for what was most important to her, something her stories were also showing Molly.  I enjoyed the building relationship between the teen and elderly woman, something I wish could occur with all young people, they learn so much from people who have lived through their own battles.

Kline has written a wonderful story of struggle and survival, of overcoming and success.  I loved Molly and Vivian, their stories surprised me in many ways, and the ending of this book was nothing I expected.  I’ve given this a 4 out of 5 stars.  Please visit She Reads for more reviews, interview with Christina Baker Kline, recipes and more.  This month’s twitter chat is taking place May 23, 8pm EDT. #srchat.  Join in!!

4 Responses to “Book Review: Orphan Train”

  1. Sandy Nawrot

    I adored this book. I was totally sucked into Vivian’s story but the current story and the relationship between Vivian and Molly just melted my heart.

  2. Cindi

    I too enjoyed learning more about this bit of American history. I agree with you that more young people should develop positive relationships with the elderly. I liked that aspect of the novel.

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