ORPHAN TRAIN: Some Wrongs Can Never be Righted

Orphan Train

 

Orphan Train CoverA Novel
by Christina Baker Kline

HardCover:
HarperCollins/William Morrow | On Sale: 10/14/2014 | Pages: 288

E-Book & Trade PB:
HarperCollins/William Morrow Paperbacks | On Sale: 04/02/2013 | Pages: 304

Library Book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinion presented herein is my own except as needed.

 

 

DESCRIPTION

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 luck or chance. 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 Ayer knows that 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 Penobscot 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. http://www.harpercollins.com/9780061950704/orphan-train

 

My Take Oblong

 

If you are anything like me ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline will blow you away with it’s depth of feeling, and sense of injustice.

For both Molly and Vivian, their childhoods are full of injustices, unfairness and wrongs that can never be righted.  For Vivian, her life was painful until she found love, and she learns there is no reward, no instant Karma, she ends up with a life that seems happy, but is it happy?  We’re so lucky to have anyone we love even for the briefest time.

Vivian’s life starts off in Ireland, poor with a slacker, trouble-prone alcoholic father and a mother who is clinically depressed. It goes on to treatment at the hands of possibly well-meaning people into a life of indentured grayness at best, hell at its worst.

Molly is born in coastal, northern Maine. At least part Native-American, her mother wasn’t ever really stable and when she loses her father and ends up in foster care, she is in a state-regulated form of the Orphan Trains.  According to the webpage of The Children’s Aid Society (http://www.childrensaidsociety.org/about/history/orphan-trains), the Orphan Trains were the beginning of the modern foster care system.

Both seem like kind of a crap shoot to me.  The CAS says the children living homeless in NYC in the 1850s had little hope for the future. But, throughout the book it seemed like the system was often careless in its placement providing, perhaps, more of a chance at a good life, but if anything like the placement depicted in ORPHAN TRAIN, the system, and the children, were much abused and had little help or recourse.

We hear similar stories about foster care today. It is certainly an overtaxed system; difficult to supervise.  Molly’s experiences point to bad matches and bad people, but I know there are lots of foster parents who provide a safe and loving home for children in need.

Vivian is certainly a “good girl” in any era: stoic, hard-working, pliable. Molly is superficially difficult as a vegetarian and wanting to hang on to her memories of her father through their Native American heritage, and after years of being treated like an extra mouth to feed, she hangs on to these small things to retain her sense of self, her sense of self worth.

The beauty is that the author  shows the antipathy of the unwanted child; unwanted for being Irish or Native American, for being too old, for having red hair, for not being who the people want her to be. It made me want to scream.

She also never minimizes or marginalizes the experiences of either character.  Through the lens of a long life, Vivian does this herself; to some degree an almost Zen acceptance. She doesn’t make it seem as if there are any ways to right the wrongs done to either woman, because, of course there are none. She only demonstrates through Vivian’s perseverance and through Molly’s inherent goodness, that there are ways to survive and to overcome the circumstances of birth and tragedy that placed each of them in a system which offered a crap shoot chance at a greater than bleak future.

This book  will definitely make you cry, keep you thinking, and will give you a chance to undrstand the ways in which a kid’s life is usually out of their control, not their choice and if they do make it through it is often in spite of adult help, or because one person cared enough to save them.

Aside from drawing parallels between the past and current treatment of children, it also offers a memorial to the children who rode the ORPHAN TRAIN.

You cannot read this book without feeling it deeply but you really should read it. I say it is a MUST READ, and it is an IMPORTANT PIECE OF FICTION.

 

Links Blue Horizontal
PUBLISHER: http://www.harpercollins.com/9780061950704/orphan-train

AUTHOR: http://christinabakerkline.com/novels/orphan-train/

AMAZON: http://www.amazon.com/dp/006195070X/ref=cm_sw_su_dp?tag=harpercollinsus-20

B & N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/orphan-train-christina-baker-kline/1111638927?cm_mmc=affiliates-_-linkshare-_-mdxm68jzjz8-_-10%3a1&ean=9780061950704&isbn=9780061950704&r=1

There are additional purchasing links on the publisher’s website