Friday, November 15, 2013

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

The blurb:
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 Ayers knows at 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 Penobscet 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.

I loved Orphan Train.  It's not the sort of book that I'd pick up for a quick escape,  I had put off reading it because I thought it might be a bit too depressing.  While Kline puts her main characters through challenging times, Vivian Daly (or Niamh pronounced "Neev") never comes across as a victim or weak and the story is never depressing.  Instead, the even the difficult moments are empowering as Niamh's personality comes through.

She travels across the Atlantic from Ireland to Ellis Island with her family. They find their way to a tenement in the Lower East Side but a disastrous fire leaves Niamh an orphan. Niamh's brave and uncomplaining when she joins the other orphans on the train and at each stop where the younger, better looking orphans are taken in.  Niamh eventually finds a place at a working home and her difficulties don't end.  Each development seems to make Niamh's situation worse but her attitude and determination kept me engrossed.   Orphan Train is encouraging and uplifting despite all the awful things that Niamh endures.

About the Author:
Christina Baker Kline was born in England and raised in Maine.  She is the author of five novels, including Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be.  Writer in Residence at Fordham University from 2007 to 2011, Kline is also a recent recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowship and several research fellowships to Ireland and Minnesota.  She lives outside of New York City and spends as much time as possible in northern Minnesota and on the coast of Maine.

1 comment:

  1. This was a wonderful book, full of past history even though it was fiction, I couldn't put it down. Loved it. Well written and interesting read. I highly recommend this book.