Book 101: ORPHAN TRAIN Review

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
ISBN:  9780061950728 (trade paperback)
ISBN:  9780062101204 (ebook)
ASIN:  B0089LOG02 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: 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.

Molly Ayers is about to age out of the foster-care system. One stupid mistake, attempting to steal a library book, forces her to accept community service hours or be placed in juvenile detention or jail. Molly chooses community service but isn’t sure where she’ll be able to get the hours she needs. Fortunately Molly’s boyfriend Jack is able to arrange for Molly to help an elderly woman clean out her attic for her hours. Molly stands out in Spruce Harbor, Maine. She dresses in Goth style in an effort to keep people away. If people don’t get close, she won’t have to worry about them leaving or hurting her. Molly has been in foster care for nine years and lived in more than twelve foster homes. Some homes were good and some were very bad. Her current foster father, Ralph Thibodeau, is anxious to provide a stable home for Molly. Ralph’s wife, Dina, doesn’t like the hassle of another mouth to feed or dealing with any of the problems that Molly faces. Jack is the only person she’s really connected with in Spruce Harbor until she meets Vivian.

Vivian Daly was born Niamh (pronounced Neev) Power in Ireland in 1909. She immigrated to the US with her family in the late 1920s and became an orphan in 1929. The Children’s Aid Society of New York gathered her and other orphans up and shipped them via train to the Midwest to be adopted. Her name was changed to Dorothy along the way and she was first sent to live with Mr. and Mrs. Byrne in Albans, Minnesota where she basically became an indentured servant sewing women’s clothing. After the stock market crash and loss of incoming business, she is sent to live with Mr. and Mrs. Grotto as a mother’s helper, where she lives in squalor and has to deal with being molested by Mr. Grotto. After running away from the Grotto family and temporarily being taken in by her school teacher, Miss Larsen, she is finally adopted by a loving family and formally becomes Vivian Nielsen (named after the Nielsen’s dead daughter). She later marries and remarries and operates a successful business before retiring from Minnesota to Maine.

Vivian and Molly have a lot in common due to their backgrounds as orphans. Molly quickly learns about Vivian’s life as an orphan and the trials of being on the “orphan train.” Jack and his mother Terry (Vivian’s housekeeper), feel that Molly is taking advantage of Vivian but Molly quickly explains that she is helping Vivian revisit and organize the tokens of her past since Vivian doesn’t really want to part with anything. 

Orphan Train mixes happy with sad, good with bad, and pretty with ugly, much like life to tell an interesting story of two women born seventy-four years apart with similar lives as orphans. It was also fascinating to watch a friendship grow between these two women. I found all of the characters to be fully developed and rather enjoyed the seesaw presentation of past and present. I’ve got to say that I was initially drawn to the story because one of the characters is named Vivian (not a lot of us in the world). I could go on and on and on about this book, but let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading Orphan Train. If you enjoyed reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh or if you just want a great read, then I highly recommend Orphan Train.

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Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss and I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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