Tag: Christina Baker Kline

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Orphan Train tells the stories of two young “orphan” girls, Vivian and Molly.  Vivian’s story begins in New York City in 1929, months before the Black Friday stock market crash.  We learn of her voyage from Ireland with her family, the tragedy that leaves her essentially orphaned, and then follow her journey when she is placed on a train to the Midwest by the Children’s Aid Society in the hopes of finding a placement family.  Molly’s story of her early years with her parents and her subsequent journey through the foster care system in the present day intertwines with Vivian’s throughout the book.  As unlikely as it might seem, their stories are remarkably similar and creates an unexpected bond of friendship.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Historical Fiction

 As Roberta mentioned in her Writer’s Review, Orphan Train is categorized as Historical Fiction.  Unlike Roberta, though, I am a huge fan of historical fiction and I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for quite some time.  One of the reasons I love historical fiction is that I often learn some previously unknown-to-me historical information, and Orphan Train certainly provided me with that.  I was unfamiliar with the Children’s Aid Society, a non-profit organization formed by Charles Loring Brace in 1853 to ensure the physical well-being of homeless children in New York City (not always orphans) and to provide them with the support and training needed to become successful adults.  Brace felt that placement with a family that could provide work, schooling, and a home situation would be more beneficial to the children than an institutional setting.  He came up with the idea of “orphan trains” – children were placed on a train with Children Aid Society chaperones and taken out of the city to various destinations across the country.  Notices were posted in the destination towns and when the trains arrived, the children were inspected and selected by the prospective foster families – often for the amount of work the child looked capable of handling or a specific talent, such as sewing, rather than for any altruistic desire to provide a loving home.  Baker’s descriptions of Vivian’s early placements with families exposed just how brutal and traumatic those placements could be.

The orphan trains sound like something out of dystopian novel, yet they really did happen.  Over the course of 76 years (the last train run was in 1929), more than 200,000 children rode the trains and began new lives.  Since they were required to leave any and all personal possessions behind, and many were given new first names by their foster or adoptive families, they truly were new lives, for better or worse.

The Children’s Aid Society (now called simply Children’s Aid) is still in existence, providing various support programs (medical, educational, legal, mental health, etc.) to NYC families and children, along with fostering and adoption options. Many of its child welfare programs were considered ground-breaking when begun but commonplace today.  The “fresh air” program is one that I was familiar with while growing up in upstate New York during the 1970s.  Several families I knew would have “fresh air” children from NYC staying with them during the summer.

Unlikely Friends

When we are first introduced to Vivian and Molly, they appear to have nothing in common.  Vivian inherited a business from her parents and she and her now-deceased husband were able to retire to a life of comfort and ease.  At the age of 90, she’s outlived her family and friends and is content to live an isolated life with a housekeeper to cook her meals and maintain the household.  Molly, on the other hand, has bounced around a few foster homes and feels that her current foster situation is tenuous, at best. She’d like to stay where she is currently placed until she “ages out” of the system in another few months, but her present foster mother isn’t really on board with her husband’s desire to foster.  More than once Molly pulls out her duffel bags and begins to pack her belongings while listening to her foster parents argue over whether to keep her.  Life is uncertain at best for Molly.

Molly and Vivian are brought together in a joint effort to clean out Vivian’s cluttered attic, and as Vivian reveals her life’s story bit by bit, Molly’s efforts to maintain an emotional distance from everyone in her life begin to fail.  Christina Baker Kline does a wonderful job of revealing the true essence of these two strong and capable women.

Take Away

Life is not always pleasant and rarely easy if you are an immigrant and/or an orphan child, no matter what time period you live in.  Both Vivian’s and Molly’s stories highlight that, as a child, you have no control and usually very little say over what the adults in your life decide for you.  Yet both of these young girls rise above the trials and traumas of childhood to become strong individuals.  I was struck by their resilience and tenacity.  Orphan Train also illustrates that even the smallest acts of kindness – providing a place to sleep for a few nights, a temporary job, or even just the gift of a book – can give hope and effect real change in the life of an individual, a message we should all take to heart.

 

Have you read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 64. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker (2012) – Discussion begins March 19, 2018

Genre:  Historical romance

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Time to discuss the next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Niamh/Vivian moved with her parents from Ireland to New York City right before the Great Depression. When she loses her parents, she is put on an orphan train to the Midwest with the hope she will be taken in by a family along the way. A couple does take her in, but her journey is a rocky one. Much later in life she meets foster kid Molly Ayer. Although they are different in age, the two might have some common ground.

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Characters

There are two main characters in this novel.

Niamh/Vivian is primary main character and she narrates the historical timeline. Over the course of the novel she has different names, which reflect changes in her circumstances. As a child in Ireland, she is named Niamh Power. When she first arrives in Minnesota and she’s taken in by a couple, the woman of the house decides to call her Dorothy Nielsen. Later when another couple adopts her, she takes the name of the couple’s deceased child, Vivian Daly. Each time her name changes, it reveals how the process strips away her identity. When she gets on the train, she leaves behind not only a place, but also who she was.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer narrates the modern day timeline (2011). This works well because if Vivian narrated, the reader would learn about things that happened in the past out of order. By having Molly narrate, we discover events as Molly hears about them.

Molly’s father died and her mother spends most of her time in jail or prison, so Molly has been in a series of foster homes. She acts out at times. In fact, she meets Vivian because she needs to do community service for stealing a library book. Her teen character adds just the right touch of modern to the 2011 timeline.

 

Christina Baker Kline orphan Train

Public domain train image from Wikimedia

Setting

The novel begins in Spruce Harbor, Maine in 2011. It then travels back to New York City in 1929, where Niamh/Vivian’s family has arrived from Ireland. Before too long, tragedy strikes, and she finds herself on an orphan train headed to the Midwest.

The rest of the story alternates between Maine in 2011 and several locations in Minnesota.

Symbolism

Niamh’s grandmother gave her a claddagh cross necklace before she left Ireland. What happens to the necklace provides important symbolism in the story. Intertwined with the necklace is Niamh’s perception of her Irish grandmother, which changes as Niamh matures and understands adult relationships in a clearer way. I liked how that growing maturity reflected Niamh’s character arc.

Discussion

Christina Baker Kline has taken on a number of challenges with Orphan Train. She has two main characters, two distinct timelines, and multiple settings to integrate into a single story. It’s a difficult juggling act, but the good news is that she has done an excellent job.

I’m not the biggest fan of historical fiction, but this one was engaging. The piece of history Christina Baker Kline chose to reveal was a heartrending one. I admire the author’s ability to immerse the reader in another time, without unintentionally allowing things from the present day to crop in. The contrast between the two timelines was further enhanced by Molly’s narration.

Orphan Train moves forward in a smooth, consistent way, rather like a real train. It knows it’s destination and moves towards it without wandering off the track, taking the reader on an enjoyable and enlightening ride along the way.

 

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__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 64. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker(2012) – Discussion begins March 19, 2018

Genre:  Historical romance

#BestsellerCode100: Number 65. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When she was a young orphan in New York City, Niamh/Vivian was put on an orphan train to the Midwest with the idea she would be adopted by a farm family. Much later in life she meets Molly Ayer, who has struggles with the foster system. Although they are different in age, the two might find some common ground.

 

 

Have you read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 64. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker(2012) – Discussion begins March 19, 2018
Genre:  Historical romance

#BookBeginnings Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Just in time for World Book Day we’re starting the next novel in The Bestseller Code 100 challengeOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  When she was a young orphan in New York City, Vivian was put on an orphan train to the Midwest with the idea she would be adopted by a farm family. Much later in life she meets Molly Ayer, who is struggling with being in the foster system. Although they are different in age, the two might find some common ground.

Side note:  The copy I found is a paperback with a fancy deckle edge and a “P.S. section with many extras about the author and about the book. It has a very lush feel.

First Sentence of the Prologue:

I believe in ghosts. They’re the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind. Many times in my life  I have felt them around me, observing, witnessing, when no one in the living world knew or cared what happened.

Discussion:

The narrator sounds lonely to me. The idea that only ghosts care for her is so sad.

This novel has gotten a lot of good reviews. I’m looking forward to reading it.

What do you think? Have you read Orphan Train or any other for Christina Baker Kline’s books?

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