Friday, September 11, 2015

Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

I had high expectations for this book as everyone I know seems to have read it and loved it. I was in a funny situation of being at a B&B and actually running out of books to read--I had brought two which seemed sufficient for a four day trip but thanks to a rainy day and very compelling books, I plowed through them. The B&B had a lot of books of course, but I didn't want to read half of something, so I decided to read something I owned and could finish at home, which limited me to about 3 choices, and this was by far the most raved about.

I think the expectations were too high. Don't get me wrong--I liked it. But I had been lead to believe it would be amazing, and it was good. Which is still a wonderful thing to find, but I was disappointed nonetheless. Molly is a teenager in Maine, a foster kid whose foster mother doesn't like her much. She has to do community service and the boy she likes suggests she help out this old lady in town who his mother works for. She wants to go through her attic and sort everything. Naturally, while doing this, the woman, Vivian, recollects her childhood and young adulthood, and she has some similarities to Molly's situation which helps Molly see hope and a way to get through. Vivian's family was mostly all killed in a tenement fire in New York City during the Depression, and like many other orphans, she was put on a train headed west, where homesteaders needed young labor, and were willing to basically cover room and board to get it. Some of these situations worked out well (think of Anne in Anne of Green Gables) but naturally many did not.

Vivian, born Niamh (which is unnecessarily not explained until late in the book although it's obvious from the outset that Naimh will grow up to be Vivian),  ended up in four different foster situations, with varying levels of care and neglect, but eventually life did work out for her. The worst situation was almost cartoonishly bad, and the best was also nearly perfect. Bad people get their comeuppance and good people are rewarded (except for one glaring tragedy.) Molly sees the light and changes her tune. Most every twist and turn in the book, I could see coming from a mile away. I did like that Molly was part Penobscot Indian and how that was treated. And it was interesting to read about this time and place, and about these train orphans. But I wish Niamh/Vivian were more developed and some of the plot turns were more unexpected. I can see how this would make for a good book club discussion, as I know it's been a popular selection this year.

Not my favorite, but it was an easy read, very informative, with interesting themes and topics around belonging, adoption, fitting in versus staying true to yourself, and believing in hope for the future despite a difficult present.

I bought this book. Don't remember when or where as it has no sticker, but I paid for it myself.

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