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Heartbreakingly beautiful

Orphan Train Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train Christina Baker Kline

Molly is a 17 year old girl who has been bounced around the social services system for years. Her current foster placement is safe, but she still does not fit in. When she is forced to do community service hours, she meets Vivian, a 91 year old woman who was an orphan herself. Over the course of time, Molly learns that despite their age difference, she and Vivian have much in common. And Vivian finally shares her story with someone, after all these years.

If I had to choose a phrase to describe this book, I would choose "heartbreakingly beautiful". The story is so touching, with its ups and downs. I felt really emotionally connected to this book, despite the fact that it took me a bit of time to get into it. I loved the historical nature of the story, surrounding the orphan trains in the early part of the 20th century, and following Vivian's life through various parts of history. I also like the intertwining nature of both Molly and Vivian's stories. I found the dual timelines deftly executed, and the result is a story that is seamless, even though it covers so many decades.

I felt very attached to both Molly and Vivian as characters. I wanted to defend them, to comfort them, and to help them have a better life. I know that sounds silly, since they are merely characters in a book. However, the fact remains that these characters are modeled after true stories; people really do go through these kinds of things. As characters, both women were richly developed. I loved seeing such strong female characters, able to persevere through hardships and not allow themselves to become victims.

While the story deals with a few rough topics (abuse, drugs/alcohol, death), I think this would actually be a great book for mature young adults who are interested in history. I also feel like many adult fans of historical fiction and contemporary fiction will enjoy the book. It certainly had a tremendous impact on me.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.

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9 Responses to “Train Truck”

  • Bruce Pate says:

    I remember at the age of 10 or so reading a novel about the late-19th and early 20th-century orphan trains, which took children and babies from East Coast slums and brought them to the Midwest, where they were given an opportunity for a potentially prosperous new life in the fresh rural air. Not until I read Christina Baker Kline's book, however, did I realize just how romanticized this version was. Orphan Train is a harrowing but ultimately uplifting story about this historical phenomenon.

    The novel starts in the present day, on the coast of Maine, as 17-year-old Molly Ayer is assigned to do 50 hours of community service as punishment for attempting to steal a school library book. Molly, a foster child who has a particularly tenuous and stressful relationship with her most recent foster mother, is worried about being sent away. So her boyfriend's mother, who cleans house for an old lady, Vivian Daly, suggests that Molly help Vivian clean out the boxes of old stuff that are clogging half of the woman's attic.

    Molly is not sure what to expect, or what Vivian will think of her. She has a Goth sensibility with the looks to match, including many piercings and tattoos. At first, her meetings with Vivian are hours to endure, but soon she finds herself absorbed by Vivian's story and astonished by the connections to her own life.

    Vivian, who immigrated to the United States from Ireland as a young girl, was originally named Niamh. When her entire family is killed in a fire in 1929, nine-year-old Niamh is turned over to a children's charity and put on an orphan train, sent to Minnesota in the hopes of finding a new home. Like Molly, though, Niamh's road to a loving home is anything but easy. After having made a fast friend on the journey west, Niamh is separated from him when she is not chosen at the first orphan train stop in Minneapolis. Instead, she arrives in a small Minnesota town, where she starts on a years-long journey toward finding something even remotely resembling a home. She's neglected, abused, overworked, underfed, and treated as slave labor. Only as a young woman is she finally able to find peace and something that looks like home.

    As Molly learns Vivian's story, the parallels to her own story become more and more clear. She comes to see Vivian as both a confidante and a friend, someone who can help her and who she possibly can help, too.

    Readers who are unfamiliar with this episode in American history might be surprised to learn about the hardships and be struck by the parallels between Niamh/Vivian's experience nearly a hundred years ago and the foster care system today. The afterword includes historical information, including a number of photographs, that will also help bring the period to life.

    - Norah Piehl

  • Dean Moody says:

    I loved this book, almost from its opening pages. What function as somewhat parallel stories, related stories, "Orphan Train" is peopled with characters that you will come to love and care for, and, as harsh as the circumstances often are, wish for them the very best of outcomes. Christina Baker Kline's previous book, "A Bird In Hand," was a Vine selection some while ago. I enjoyed it but I love this story so much more. "Orphan Train"...there were such, and over many years they brought in excess of 200,000 homeless children of varied ages to stops along the way in the Midwest and far West, in the hopes of finding homes for them. Didn't seem to matter whether the homes turned out to be good homes; rather it was almost an effort to remove orphans from the scene, scatter them, often without any care or concerrn as to the circumstances into which they might be taken. "Orphan Train" is a beautifully realized story, moving us back and forth in time from the late 1920's Minnesota to 2011 Maine, back and forth as the pages unfold. Most memorable, of course, will be our interaction with Niamh (later to be named Vivian) and Molly, Niamh an immigrant girl, who, through circumstances, comes to be on the orphan train, Molly a girl of the present, about to "age out" of foster care. The paths of these two characters cross just when perhaps both need the other the most. You'll be pulled into this relationship and Vivian's incredible story, perhaps finding, as I did, that the book was impossible to put down. This is a memorable piece of writing, a lovely novel of which author Baker Kline can be so proud. She cloaks her history lesson in a tale that will move you, sometimes anger you, but always inspire you as roads, by chance, are taken by these characters, leading them to the book's lovely conclusion.

  • Dennis Ford says:

    Engaging, fast paced plot with great characterization. This intriguing well-written story of a nine year old Irish-American orphan placed on a train in New York with many other orphans to find homes in the mid-west is bittersweet. Simultaneously, we are involved with another bittersweet plot line of a 17 year old foster child in 2011 Maine. Both are compelling characters and stories that segue smoothly. Yet, both are stories of fate--how all things in life turn out for the best. Perhaps we can't see the road while we are on it, but in the end our vision is clear. This is a book you won't put down.

  • Sergio Tyler says:

    This book was absolutely amazing! How she got into the minds of what it is like to be an orphan is amazing. I know, because I was one, a lucky one. This is a book you will not want to put down until you are done with it....I read it the first day and will read it again, and probably again after that!

  • Antonio Holt says:

    A solid piece of historical fiction, this story captured me from beginning to end. The ending was perfect, leaving me with a good feeling. The past and the present are beautifully woven together through Vivian and Molly, while spinning a tale of twisting emotions.

    Seventeen year old Molly, a foster child who is about to be too old for foster care, is given fifty hours of community service for trying to steal a book. In the past nine years, Molly has been in over a dozen foster homes, some for as little as a week. She's become very defiant. The one thing Molly hates most about the foster care system is the dependence on people you barely know, your vulnerability to their whims. She has learned not to live a life of expectations. She's not too keen on devoting fifty hours of her life to Vivian in a drafty attic, going through endless boxes of stuff.

    Ninety one year old Vivian Daly, lives in a fourteen room victorian mansion and wants to have her attic cleaned out with the help of Molly. There are many boxes to be opened and Vivian's past is soon revealed. Vivian's family left Ireland for America in 1929 in hopes of a brighter future, thinking they were on their way to a land of plenty. But, they failed miserably, ill suited for the rigors of emigration. The family meets with tragedy and Vivian is soon on her way to the mid-west on the orphan train - headed for the unknown.

    I was not at all familiar with this strange and little known episode in our nation's history. The orphan trains existed from 1854 - 1929. Each child has a sad tale; they wouldn't be on the train otherwise. They are told that they are lucky to be on this orphan train. They are leaving an evil place, full of ignorance, poverty and vice, for the nobility of country life. They had simple rules to adhere to and if they didn't obey these rules, they would be sent back to where they came from and discharged on the street, left to fend for themselves.

    Adoptive parents gathered at the train stations looking for a child to adopt. A child is selected for free on a ninety-day trial, at which point, they had the right to send the child back. But, too many times the children were abused. Babies and healthy older boys were typically chosen first. Older girls were chosen last. If a child wasn't chosen, they'd get back on the train and try again at the next town.

    The author brings richness and life to this compelling story - completely absorbing and wonderfully written. I highly recommend.

  • Marvin Lawson says:

  • Jayne Macias says:

    On the coast of Maine lives a wealthy ninety-one year old woman named Vivian Daly. Yet in her attic are trunks that reveal the secrets of her turbulent past.

    It is the year 2011, and nearby in the same town of Spruce Harbor, lives a seventeen-year-old girl named Molly Ayer who has bounced from foster home to foster home, and is now in a situation involving petty theft that will require some kind of community service.

    Told in beautifully evocative prose, the story unfolds in alternate perspectives, revealing what has happened to each of them, and how the parallel lines of their lives now converge to spotlight the similarities between them.

    From Vivian's early childhood in Ireland, to New York City, comes her passage on the Orphan Trains in 1929. A journey that will take her to Minnesota, from one home to another, never really knowing what home feels like, as she is treated like a slave and seldom has enough of anything, much less affection or love.

    What Molly sees when she meets the elderly woman is a wealthy person who could not begin to understand her or her issues. But as the two of them clean out the boxes in the attic, the stories they share with one another reveal so much more than either could have suspected.

    The characters, both the primary ones and the supporting ones, brought so much color and emotion to the stories that I could feel as though I were sitting in their midst, observing and listening to them. And as I neared the end of Orphan Train: A Novel, I really could not have imagined a more beautiful or satisfying conclusion, and with it came a feeling that these characters would live on in my memories.

    At one point, Molly is at Vivian's home, taking in her recent good fortune:

    "Sitting in the rocker in the kitchen, looking out at the water, Molly feels oddly at peace. For the first time since she can remember, her life is beginning to make sense. What up until this moment has felt like a random, disconnected series of unhappy events she now views as necessary steps in a journey toward...enlightenment is perhaps too strong a word, but there are others, less lofty, like self-acceptance and perspective...."

    It is impossible to read this story and not take away from it the knowledge that wonderfully unexpected moments can happen in a life, even in one that is full of turbulence, pain, loss, and the sense of being an outsider. And when such moments occur, it is also impossible not to celebrate. Or feel the sense of exuberance that comes with the gifts of love, acceptance, and second chances. A story with a perfect ending that I won't share here, for fear of spoiling it for the reader. Suffice it to say that you will love Vivian and Molly and will feel the joy of their unique connection. Five stars.

  • Sonya Benson says:

    Well written. I finished this book in one sitting. I love the history, I am seventy years old and had never heard of the orphans trains, and neither had any of my friends.
    The best way to learn history, with a great story as the backdrop!

  • Jodi Delacruz says:

    Molly is a 17 year old girl who has been bounced around the social services system for years. Her current foster placement is safe, but she still does not fit in. When she is forced to do community service hours, she meets Vivian, a 91 year old woman who was an orphan herself. Over the course of time, Molly learns that despite their age difference, she and Vivian have much in common. And Vivian finally shares her story with someone, after all these years.

    If I had to choose a phrase to describe this book, I would choose "heartbreakingly beautiful". The story is so touching, with its ups and downs. I felt really emotionally connected to this book, despite the fact that it took me a bit of time to get into it. I loved the historical nature of the story, surrounding the orphan trains in the early part of the 20th century, and following Vivian's life through various parts of history. I also like the intertwining nature of both Molly and Vivian's stories. I found the dual timelines deftly executed, and the result is a story that is seamless, even though it covers so many decades.

    I felt very attached to both Molly and Vivian as characters. I wanted to defend them, to comfort them, and to help them have a better life. I know that sounds silly, since they are merely characters in a book. However, the fact remains that these characters are modeled after true stories; people really do go through these kinds of things. As characters, both women were richly developed. I loved seeing such strong female characters, able to persevere through hardships and not allow themselves to become victims.

    While the story deals with a few rough topics (abuse, drugs/alcohol, death), I think this would actually be a great book for mature young adults who are interested in history. I also feel like many adult fans of historical fiction and contemporary fiction will enjoy the book. It certainly had a tremendous impact on me.

    I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.

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