By Christina Baker Kline
Genre: Historical Fiction
Major Themes: Growing up, being alone, orphans, foster care, value of family
Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Orphan Train is a book that takes place in two very different timeframes– the early 1900s (an era of depression and poverty), and today– with two seemingly different women. In the present day, 17 year old Molly Ayer is forced into a community service position in order to avoid going to juvie. Luckily, her boyfriend sets her up cleaning the attic of a rich, elderly woman named Vivian Daly. Molly hates Vivian, and instantly begins to act negatively, her typical outward attitude. However, Vivian has some secrets. She used to be a foster child as well, traveling on the “orphan trains” from the east coast to the Midwest in an attempt to find someone who would care for her. Vivian’s story is one of loss and struggle, just as Molly’s is. As the two begin to connect, something special happens, and the readers also get to appreciate Vivian’s entire story from her perspective due to the time switch.
Overall, I LOVED this book. Vivian and Molly were both very relatable, and their stories were realistic without being over-the-top or stereotypical, something that is difficult to achieve when writing about a troubled foster child. I think the time switch worked beautifully as you slowly learned parts of Vivian’s story at the same time which Molly did, making you believe that you were also helping to clean out the attic.
As far as I can tell, the book was historically accurate, as “Orphan Train” scenarios happened quite often, and many with little success. Kline was able to portray the poverty of the outside world, and of Vivian’s own life, vividly, and you began to relate deeply with the main character. This book can be emotionally taxing, as there are many struggles depicted, but it is written in a way that makes you want to keep reading. So no, this is not a “beach read”, but you are definitely not going to have to force yourself to keep turning the pages.
I think this is a good choice for someone even if they are not particularly interested in historical fiction, because Kline never forces historical details at the reader, instead working on writing a basic story of friendship and tribulations. Plus, the fact that it alternates between history and present day allows a bit of change for people who may become bored with one timeframe. That being said, I don’t think you will get bored. The fact that it is alternating means there is always something going on, as it is possible to skip many days in the characters lives without actually missing anything.
Kline’s writing is amazing, and her characterization of Vivian and Molly is flawless. The only thing I wish is that Molly’s boyfriend had a bit larger of a personality, as he was not fully developed, although he was mentioned often. Other background characters, such as another orphan Vivian was friends with, and the foster parents of Molly were very developed, and so the boyfriend seemed lacking. That being said, it did not take away from the overall impression of the book. If this isn’t already on your “to-read” shelf, you should definitely add it today.
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