February 2, 2015
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
2013 William Morrow/Harper Collins
Finished on December 30, 2014
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
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.
Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendships.
When this book first came out in the spring of 2013, it was published in paperback, not hardcover. It became a book club favorite, hitting all the favorites charts and flying off the shelves in bookstores across the country. Usually a book this popular piques my interest and I try to get it read before the hype spoils the experience, but for whatever reason, I never gave it more than a passing glance. Was it the lackluster cover art that curbed my enthusiasm? I didn’t even know about the dual storylines, so that wasn’t the reason for choosing to read other books over this one. After listening to three good friends chatting about it during one of our informal book club meetings, I decided to borrow a copy from one of them, but I wound up letting it linger on my nightstand for several months. Finally, after feeling guilty for having it for so long, I decided to give it a chance.
Why didn’t I read this book sooner?!?! Not only did I miss out on a great summer read, but I missed the opportunity to hand sell it during the holiday season. (Not that anyone would need to buy it since they probably had already read it!) As I mentioned, this is one of those rare instances in which a work of fiction was published first in paperback rather than hardcover. With such great popularity, the publisher released a hardcover edition just in time for Christmas. (Maybe I could have sold some copies…)
In any event, I was very pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the book as much as I did, especially since (as I’ve already stated in several other book reviews) I’ve grown tired of novels that have alternating timelines. Not only does Kline do an exceptional job weaving together the two narratives, but she allows her reader to follow one story for several chapters before switching to the other point of view. This is less disruptive and makes for a more enjoyable read, as far as I’m concerned.
An all-around good story, I was immediately drawn into Orphan Train and read it in just a few short days. The characters are well-drawn and very likeable, and while a couple of plot points were a little predictable, I enjoyed the historical element of the novel and am eager to try more by this author. And, I may just have to buy one of those hardcover editions for a future re-read with my granddaughter. Either that, or listen to it on audio. Any recommendations for other books by Christina Baker Kline? Have you read this one? If not, what are you waiting for?!