I'm excited to be a new member of She Reads Blog Network--a network of reading, blogging women who promote literacy and the novels we love. Each month, I will be participating with She Reads by reading the monthly selection and sharing it here on my blog too. As my first She Reads novel, I'm excited to present Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.
Beginning in the 1850's and ending in the 1920's trains loaded with orphan or abandoned children from the East Coast traveled across the country to the Midwest where they were adopted by families. Older boys often became extra labor on farms. Occasionally the children had fairy tale endings. More often, the children encountered harrowing circumstances with families that saw them as free workers instead of loving them as children. In her novel Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline weaves the stories of Vivian who traveled from New York City to Minnesota on the Orphan Train and Molly, a teenage girl stuck in the foster care system in Maine. Heart-breaking at times but also filled with moments of hope and redemption, Orphan Train is an emotional read that pierced my heart.
Perhaps it was my own personal ties to Minnesota and Maine--places that I love. Perhaps it was the stories from my own great-grandmother who was "farmed" out to live with another family in another Minnesota town after her parents' divorce. She changed her name from Oral Olive Smith to Eleanor Bellsum and skipped a grade by telling the teacher at the new school that she was in 4th grade instead of 3rd. She would return home a year later after her mother remarried but the experience would leave a lasting impression. Mostly, it was the tender and thoughtful writing and the tragic, love-less story of Vivian in Orphan Train that nearly had me crying by the final pages. While Vivian faces terrible circumstances in her young life that will inevitably shape the person she will become, she has the chance to redeem herself--to show love to another and discover her family.
The writing is much richer during Vivian's early years and less so when talking about Molly's life. This may be intentional since Vivian's story on the orphan train is most central to the plot. The ending loses some steam and there are later events in Vivian's life that could have been developed more since they were so obviously a result of her earlier life. But overall, Kline combines an interesting page in US history with careful story-telling to create a compelling novel of hope, faith, forgiveness and redemption. It's just a lovely, lovely book.
There is the occasional use of the F-word in the book.
**I received a complimentary copy of Orphan Train in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was received**