The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train
Publisher:  William Morrow Paperbacks
Date Released:  April 2, 2013
Pages:  278

About the Author:  Christina Baker Kline was born in Cambridge, England, and raised there as well as in the American South and Maine. She is the author of five novels: Orphan Train, Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, Desire Lines, and Sweet Water. She is co-editor, with Anne Burt, of About Face: Women Write about What They See When They Look in the Mirror and co-author, with Christina L. Baker, of The Conversation Begins: Mothers and Daughters Talk about Living Feminism. She has edited three other anthologies: Child of Mine, Room to Grow, and Always Too Soon. Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University from 2007 to 2011, Kline has also taught literature and creative writing at Yale, NYU, UVA, and Drew University. A graduate of Yale, Cambridge University, and the University of Virginia, where she was a Hoyns Fellow in Fiction Writing, Kline is a recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowship and several research fellowships, and has been a Writer-in-Residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Kline lives with husband and three sons in Montclair, New Jersey. She is at work on another novel and an anthology.

Wanda's Review:   A solid piece of historical fiction, this story captured me from beginning to end. The ending was just 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 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, living in a fourteen room victorian mansion, wants to have her attic cleaned out. There are many boxes to be opened and Vivian's past is soon revealed. Vivian's family left Ireland for America 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 and 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 and poverty, 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 streets, 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, if you so choose, you may 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 would get back on the train and try again in the next town. 

Christina Baker Kline brings richness and life to this compelling story - completely absorbing and beautifully written. I highly recommend and my rating is 5 stars.