Sunday, October 11, 2015

Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Seemingly Different Lives with Similarities Converge

This story alternates between the present day life of Molly, a teenager in a foster home facing impending "juvie", with an elderly woman who needs help cleaning out her attic in her mansion. What would these two have in common? At first, Molly thinks that there is no way that she will identify with Vivian but she's going to complete her fifty hours of community service for stealing a book from the library.

Over time, Molly realizes that the surroundings do not define the woman, and that Vivian too has a past that shaped who she is as well. Vivian recounts her story about immigrating from Ireland with her family, her ride on the Orphan Train to the west, and the series of events, many of them quite tragic, that lead her to be in a mansion nearing the end of her life, with boxes of possessions stored in an attic. I think that those possessions, while not elaborated on in this book, really served a purpose for Vivian in compartmentalizing her past and keeping things to feel some sense of being rooted to a history.

What I found most interesting about this book was the ability of the author to tell two different stories with different voices that made it seem authentic. Obviously the subject matter itself is not new, I have read other stories about the trains, but she brought a new perspective by combining it with present day. Molly is a complex character and does not fit into a neat pigeon hole, she seems honest and real. Additionally, Molly's Native American background adds an interesting element, when compared to Vivian's recounting of Irish immigrants and their history.

I also liked that the backgrounds of both Molly and Vivian were not painted with the typical dreamy filter that often happens when recounting the past. Molly and Vivian both realize that their lives before were not perfect or fairy tales which again makes this seem more realistic.

Most importantly, without giving the story away, I like that the end did not wrap up everything with a neat bow. Stories did have some resolution but there was an ability to wonder what happened after the book ended. Life is not perfect and I'm certain that there would be continue to be challenges for Molly and her future.

Really good book, I recommend this one.

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