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I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.

SPOILER ALERT!

Orphan Train

Orphan Train - Christina Baker Kline

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 luck or chance. 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 friendship. (source)

 


This is the latest read for my book club, and I'm so glad that my friend Beth selected it for our reader's choice list! I thought the premise sounded interesting, but it far surpassed my expectations - I loved this book! Before you read any further - this review has a LOT of spoilers. I tried to put a spoiler alert before all of them, but I may have missed some. So if you're planning on reading the book anytime soon, proceed with caution! 

 

The story is told from two perspectives - Molly's in the present (well, 2011 - close enough) and Vivian's in the past. Molly's a foster child with a chip on her shoulder - she's bounced from family to family, never truly finding her place in the world and continually disappointed by humanity. Vivian is an elderly woman who lives alone in a beautiful mansion, with only her housekeeper, Terry, for company. Molly happens to be dating Terry's son, Jack, and when the opportunity arises for her to complete her community service hours by helping to clean out Vivian's attic, she half-heartedly accepts the offer, never expecting that in Vivian she'll find a kindred spirit, someone who actually understands what Molly's been through and sees her as more than just a delinquent who's a few steps away from jail. 

 

I especially loved hearing Vivian's story, which is probably at least partially due to my BA in history. I'd heard of the orphan trains before, but only briefly - I think that I did read a children's book about them once when I was in elementary school but that's the extent of my knowledge of them. But I think that part of American history is both heartbreaking and fascinating and I definitely looked forward to learning about it in this book. In truth, the orphan train part of this book is very brief - the majority of the story is split between Molly's experiences as she gets to know Vivian and Vivian's experiences after riding the orphan train. However, I really didn't mind this - truthfully, Vivian's life after riding the orphan train was what shaped who she was when Molly meets her. 

 

Reading about Vivian's story was absolutely heartbreaking. So was Molly, in its own way, but I think that Vivian went through more. They both definitely had abandonment issues, but I think I was more sympathetic to Vivian. Molly just didn't really seem to care; she built up a brick wall around her heart so she couldn't be hurt anymore, while Vivian I think was always searching for a home but never quite found it. Her experience with the Grotes just devastated me - I felt so horrible for her

and I couldn't believe that the authorities in the area weren't more interested in protecting her. I mean, knowing the way that the legal system worked then it doesn't really surprise me, but still. I felt so bad for her.

(show spoiler)

And then I was happy when

she was finally taken in by the Nielsons - even though they never really became "mom and dad" to her, they still genuinely cared for her and after all she'd been through, that was enough for Vivian

(show spoiler)

. And Dutchy. Thank God for Dutchy. Though his relationship with Vivian takes up only a small fraction of the book, it was by far my favorite part...

I'm just sad that things ended the way that they did.

(show spoiler)

But I'm so thankful that in the end, Vivian finally had her happy ending. 

 

My one complaint is that we never really got closure on Molly's story.

I mean, I know that she left Dina and Ralph and moved in with Vivian.

(show spoiler)

But what happens next? Does she stay there till graduation, or does she move out when she's 18? Does she go on to college? Does she end up winning the award? An epilogue would have been a great way to wrap things up, because there's not really room for a sequel. 

 

This was a fantastic book, one that left me crying and smiling at various parts throughout the story. I definitely want to learn more about the orphan trains, so this probably just sparked a new amateur research project for me, haha. If you're a fan of historical fiction, especially Depression-era American history, I highly recommend giving this book a try.